Tag: Assad


The Coming Confrontation Between Israel and Iran: Elliott Abrams, Atlantic, Oct 15, 2017— In the United States, discussions of Iran have, for the last few years, centered mostly around the JCPOA—the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama.

In Syrian Barrage, a Confident Message Signed by Iran and Russia: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Oct. 22, 2017— It’s not clear if the sudden barrage of rockets “bleeding” into Israel from Syria Saturday had anything to do with the presence in Damascus of Iran’s defense chief.

Hizballah's Nasrallah Escalates Threats as Syria Turns Into Iranian Base: Burak Bekdil, BESA, Oct. 10, 2017— A recent speech by Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah contained unusually aggressive statements, calling for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, and claiming that a future war would lead to Israel's "demise."

Russia’s Air Defenses in Syria: More Politics than Punch: Guy Plopsky, BESA, Oct. 18, 2017— In early October 2016, Russian Defense Ministry chief spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned the US-led anti-ISIS coalition that “Russian air defense crews are unlikely to have time to clarify via the [de-confliction] line the exact flight path of missiles and who their carrier platforms belong to,”…


On Topic Links


Golan Heights Residents on Edge After Latest Cross-Border Exchange of Fire: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Oct. 22, 2017

As ISIS’ Role in Syria Wanes, Other Conflicts Take the Stage: Anne Barnard & Hwaida Saad, New York Times, Oct. 19, 2017

Moscow Nears ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria: Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, Oct. 23, 2017

Iran Steps Up Its Economic Domination in Syria: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Oct. 19, 2017




Elliott Abrams

Atlantic, Oct 15, 2017


In the United States, discussions of Iran have, for the last few years, centered mostly around the JCPOA—the nuclear deal negotiated by President Obama. In the Middle East, things are different. This is because, while we have been debating, Iran has been acting—and Israel has been reacting. Israel has struck sites in Syria 100 times in the last five years, bombing when it saw an Iranian effort to move high-tech materiel to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Last month Israel bombed the so-called Scientific Studies and Researchers Center in Masyaf (a city in central Syria), a military site where chemical weapons and precision bombs were said to be produced. Now, there are reports…that Iran is planning to build a military airfield near Damascus, where the IRGC (Revolutionary Guards) could build up their presence and operate. Fishman also wrote that Iran and the Assad regime are negotiating over giving Iran its own naval pier in the port of Tartus, and that Iran may actually deploy a division of soldiers in Syria.


Such developments would be unacceptable to Israel, and it will convey this message to Russia and to the United States. Russia’s defense minister will soon visit Israel, after which Israel’s defense minister will visit Washington. Previous Israeli efforts to get Putin to stop Iran (during Netanyahu’s four visits to Moscow in the last year) have failed, which suggests that Israel will need to do so itself, alone—unless the new Iran policy being debated inside the Trump administration leads the United States to seek ways to stop the steady expansion of Iran’s military presence and influence in the Middle East. Whether this happens remains to be seen. Whatever the debate over the JCPOA, there may well be a broader consensus in the administration that Iran’s growing military role in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the region must be countered.


Whatever the American conclusion, if Iran does indeed plan to establish a large and permanent military footprint in Syria—complete with permanent naval and air bases and a major ground force—Israel will have fateful decisions to make. Such an Iranian presence on the Mediterranean and on Israel’s border would change the military balance in the region and fundamentally change Israel’s security situation. And under the JCPOA as agreed by Obama, limits on Iran’s nuclear program begin to end in only eight years; Iran may now perfect its ICBM program; and there are no inspections of military sites where further nuclear weapons research may be underway. As Senator Tom Cotton said recently, “If Iran doesn’t have a covert nuclear program today, it would be the first time in a generation.” Israel could be a decade away from a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and bases in Syria—and could logically therefore even place nuclear weapons in Syria, just miles from Israel’s border.


Fishman, the dean of Israel’s military correspondents, wrote: “If the Israeli diplomatic move fails to bear fruit, we [Israel] are headed toward a conflict with the Iranians.” That conclusion, and the Iranian moves that make it a growing possibility, should be on the minds of Trump administration officials as they contemplate a new policy toward Iran’s ceaseless drive for power in the Middle East.






MESSAGE SIGNED BY IRAN AND RUSSIA                                                           

Avi Issacharoff

Times of Israel, Oct. 22, 2017


It’s not clear if the sudden barrage of rockets “bleeding” into Israel from Syria Saturday had anything to do with the presence in Damascus of Iran’s defense chief. But given Iran’s seemingly unstoppable drive to entrench itself militarily in the region, the Syrian regime’s newfound confidence, and some other suspicious factors, it’s likely the volley was more than just an accident.


Though inadvertent fire has hit Israel in the past, this incident doesn’t fit that mold, and seems more like a Syrian attempt to send a message. First, there’s the timing — around 5 a.m. Most of the fighting in the Syrian civil war has taken place in the daylight hours, certainly not before the crack of dawn. Second, none of the previous inadvertent volleys consisted of five consecutive rockets. Indeed, the incident appears to be connected to the anti-aircraft fire Syria directed at Israeli jets flying a reconnaissance mission over Lebanon last week, and a more aggressive recent tone from Damascus.


These developments are evident of the boost in self-confidence the Syrian regime is experiencing. Just Saturday, Assad’s army captured the Christian town of Qaryatayn, which had previously been taken by Islamic State and used as a base for the terror group. Assad may feel that victory in the civil war is within his reach thanks to having Tehran by his side, along with Shiite militias from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and 8,000 well-armed Hezbollah fighters. So maybe he considers this a good time to send Israel a defiant message.


It doesn’t hurt that the same day, Iranian defense chief Mahmoud Bagheri signed a memorandum of understanding with his Syrian counterpart, Ali Ayyoub. According to the Syria’s state-run SANA news outlet, the memorandum is meant to deepen ties between the countries in intelligence sharing, technology and military to “improve the fight against terror.” The statement also served as a reminder of how deeply Iran is managing to entrench itself unimpeded in Syria, as the US-led coalition and Kurdish militias wrap up their campaign to drive Islamic State out of the country.


For now, at least, it doesn’t seem there is anybody who can stop the spread of Iran’s influence in the region. Russia may be willing to turn a blind eye to the next Israeli airstrike, but that won’t torpedo Iran’s plan for Syria, which includes a broad and lasting military presence. As for the Americans: The US is increasingly seen as unwilling to intervene, even for its allies. That was made clear by the blind eye the Trump administration turned to the retaking of Iraqi Kirkuk from the Kurdish forces it had backed. The US sold the Kurds down the river in favor of a Baghdad government backed by Shiite militias supported by Iran, if only to keep the Iraqis close to Washington.


In many ways, the US abandonment of Kirkuk may come to echo the aftermath of the Ghouta chemical attack of 2013, when president Barack Obama failed to enforce his red lines. Then, to Moscow, Damascus and the rest of the Middle East, the lack of action translated into the idea that the US was afraid.


Russia, in contrast, hasn’t hesitated to step in and protect its allies, and it is Moscow’s assistance that is most credited with bringing Assad’s regime back from the dead. In a roundabout way, Assad has Islamic State to thank for bringing Russia riding in to save him. One of the main reasons for Moscow’s intervention in the war was the fear that IS could spread, both as a military power and as an idea, to the Allawite-majority region near the coast, where Russia has strategically important assets including a naval base.


There’s no reason to assume that had the Syrian regime been battling the Free Syrian Army or another moderate group, the Kremlin would have been so quick to jump into action to back Assad, one of the greatest tyrants of modern history, a man responsible for the death of some half a million people — many through torture, execution, and chemical attacks. Islamic State may have been the greatest threat to the Assad regime, but it was also his greatest lifeline.         




AS SYRIA TURNS INTO IRANIAN BASE                                                        

Yaakov Lappin

IPT, Oct. 8, 2017


A recent speech by Hizballah chief Hassan Nasrallah contained unusually aggressive statements, calling for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel, and claiming that a future war would lead to Israel's "demise." Nasrallah said Israeli Jews should "leave and return to the countries from which they came so they are not fuel for any war that the idiotic [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu government takes them to… They will have no secure place in occupied Palestine."


The speech echoed rhetoric recently espoused by the Iranian regime and its military officials, who said Tel Aviv would be "destroyed" if Israel made "a mistake," and that Israel would not survive for more than 25 years. "Israel should remain silent and count down the days to its death, because any minor mistake would lead to its demise as fast as lightning," said Iranian army commander Maj.-Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi.


These threats contain two messages. The first message is a reaffirmation of the Shi'ite axis's jihadist, ideological, long-term commitment to Israel's destruction. The second message is more immediate; it is an attempt to deter Israeli decision makers from trying to stop Iran and its proxies from taking over Syria. Iran, together with its chief agent Hizballah and several other Shi'ite militias, are helping the Assad regime complete its victory in Syria, with the assistance of Russian airpower. This is a victory made possible by the mass murder and terrorization of Syria's Sunni population, and the ensuing mass movement of refugees out of the country.


The upsurge in war-like rhetoric towards Israel is a signal of growing Iranian-Hizballah confidence, fuelled by their victories in Syria. Radical Shi'ite forces – armed, funded, and commanded by Iran – are moving into the vacuum left behind by ISIS. Tehran's objective is to turn Syria into another Lebanon; a heavily armed outpost from which Iran can launch attacks against Israel.


So far, the international community has shown no interest or willingness to stop this development from happening. Despite the latest bluster, Nasrallah made sure to issue his statements from the safety of his Lebanese bunker – an indication he still fears Israel's powerful reach. Nasrallah and his Iranian masters have good reason to remain fearful of Israel, for it is the only state that has both the capability and determination to challenge their takeover of Syria.


There have been a series of reported Israeli precision strikes on weapons production centers and arms smuggling attempts in Syria. One strike reportedly targeted the Assad regime's Scientific Studies and Research Center (CERS) weapons facility, where chemical, biological, and advanced ballistic missiles are developed and manufactured. The targeted facility may have been where Iran tried to hand over powerful weapons to Hizballah.


Israel is running a low profile campaign against the dangerous buildup of Hizballah's weapons arsenal. These are arms that are produced in Iran and Syria, and trafficked to Lebanon. This Israeli campaign is a thorn in the side of the Shi'ite axis. There is a wider Israeli warning here: Jerusalem has no intention of sitting on the side and watching Syria turn into an Iranian-Hizballah base.


Israeli leaders are issuing their own warnings, making it clear that provocations by the Shi'ite axis can lead to devastation. "The next conflict, if it erupts, will have a completely different character. Our enemies will try first to strike our population centers and civilian infrastructure. And if our red lines will be breached, the other side must know in advance that it is going to pay very heavy prices," said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. In addition, Israel has stated it will not tolerate an approach to its border by Iranian or Hizballah forces operating in Syria.


Sunni states like Jordan and Saudi Arabia are equally disturbed by events in Syria. But Israel is the only regional state with the ability to stop the Iranian game plan. Only time will tell whether the world continues to turn a blind eye to the radical Shi'ite entrenchment in Syria, and leave Israel to deal with this mess by itself.


Meanwhile, recent comments by the head of the Mossad, Israel's overseas intelligence service, serve as a timely reminder of the fact that the Iranian nuclear program remains a threat. The nuclear program is only temporarily dormant. "Iran continues to possess a vision of having a significant nuclear capability, leading to a military nuclear ability," said Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in recent days.


"Iran continues to act with increasing aggression in activating military forces and operations in the Middle East, closer to our border than ever, in the Lebanese and Syrian arenas [which are] as one. Iran continues to support Hizballah, and recently, it is increasingly supporting Hamas. Iran continues to transfer advanced and precise weapons to terrorist organizations in our area," the Mossad chief said. The Mossad conducts "thousands of operations, some complex and daring, in the heart of enemy states," Cohen added.


This not-so-cold war between Israel and the Iranian axis looks set to continue. Lines are being drawn in Syria by both sides. Israel's lines are purely defensive, while Iran and its agents are following a belligerent, encroaching agenda, which threaten to destabilize the entire region.





Guy Plopsky

BESA, Oct. 18, 2017


In early October 2016, Russian Defense Ministry chief spokesman Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov warned the US-led anti-ISIS coalition that “Russian air defense crews are unlikely to have time to clarify via the [de-confliction] line the exact flight path of missiles and who their carrier platforms belong to,” adding that “any air or missiles strikes on territory controlled by the Syrian government will pose a clear threat to Russian military servicemen.” The warning, issued in response to an accidental US strike against forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad the previous month, renewed fears that Russia may attempt to target coalition and Israeli aerial assets.


Since then, however, both the US and Israel have struck pro-regime targets in Syria with no blowback from the Kremlin. Why has Moscow proven reluctant to respond? Concerns about Russia restricting coalition and Israeli freedom of action over Syria intensified in late November 2015, following the downing of a Russian Su-24M strike aircraft by a Turkish F-16. Commenting on the shoot-down, Lieut.-Gen. Sergey Rudskoy threatened that Russia would destroy “every target posing a potential threat.” Shortly afterwards, Russia deployed its much feared S-400 Triumf long-range SAM system at Khmeimim Airbase near Latakia.


The S-400 deployment created the impression that pro-Assad forces would benefit from Russia’s new SAM umbrella. However, numerous IAF strikes against weapons shipments destined for the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group proved this assumption wrong. The strikes indicated that Moscow, despite its rhetoric, takes Jerusalem’s red lines seriously and does not wish to escalate tensions with Israel, a major regional power and key US ally. Moscow has no desire to see Israel expand its involvement in the conflict, especially given that the regional balance of power is not in Russia’s favor. A recent unanswered strike, allegedly executed by Israel, against a chemical and missile production and storage facility near Masyaf – just 13km from a new Russian S-400  site – appears to support this notion.


Several incidents have occurred involving Russian and Israeli military assets, including unconfirmed reports of Russian forces firing on Israeli aircraft. Yet Israeli and Russian leaders have held a number of meetings intended to, in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “strengthen the security cooperation between us so as to avoid mishaps, misunderstandings, and unnecessary confrontations.” Furthermore, Israel and Russia established a deconfliction line in October 2015 that has helped reduce the risk of clashes.


Moscow’s warnings to Israel are therefore directed more towards the Syrian and Russian public than they are towards Jerusalem. Offering no threatening response to Israeli airstrikes would make the Kremlin appear weak, prompting pro-Assad factions to question Moscow’s commitment to the regime and weakening Russia’s influence. At the same time, Russia has been rebuilding Syria’s air defenses in the hope that they would deter both Israel and the coalition from further strikes. Russia’s Defense Ministry has mentioned Syrian air defenses in warnings directed at coalition forces and has pledged to “increase [their] effectiveness” following the April 7, 2017, US Navy Tomahawk cruise missile strike against al-Shayrat Air Base. Doing so could backfire for Moscow, however, given that it might prompt Israel or the US to target Syrian air defenses and possibly other regime military assets as well.


As for Russia’s own air defenses, Moscow has not utilized them to defend Assad’s forces and is unlikely to do so for fear of an armed confrontation with the US and its partners. Indeed, while Syrian fighters are known to have flown escort missions for Russian strike aircraft, the reverse has not occurred. Furthermore, like Israel, the US maintains a deconfliction line with Russia and has developed deconfliction agreements to avoid clashes.


Interestingly, a Russian TV special on Khmeimim Air Base, which aired on June 11, 2017, claimed Russia has agreed not to target coalition aircraft as long as they maintain a distance of 60 km or more from the base. The special featured Lieut.-Gen. Viktor Gumyonny, head of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ (VKS) Air and Missile Defense Troops, who asserted that coalition aircraft approaching Khmeimim are tracked by Russian air defenses (presumably by the S-400’s fire control radar) and immediately leave the area. Coalition sources have confirmed neither the validity of these claims nor the truth of whether or not coalition aircraft have flown within close proximity to Khmeimim; nevertheless, such statements highlight Moscow’s reluctance to defend regime forces.


On June 18, a week after the airing of the TV special, a US Navy F/A-18E downed a Syrian Su-22 strike aircraft near Raqqa, prompting Russia’s Defense Ministry to issue another warning – one that seemed to convey a shift in Russia’s policy on targeting coalition aircraft. The warning asserted that “jets and unmanned aerial vehicles of the international coalition discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by Russian air and ground defenses as air targets.” However, as Western analysts were quick to point out, this rather ambiguous threat, like those before it, was intended primarily to reassure Russian and pro-Assad audiences, and to deter coalition forces from further strikes against regime forces. Moreover, though Russia threatened to cut the deconfliction line with the US, the line remained open…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Golan Heights Residents on Edge After Latest Cross-Border Exchange of Fire: Barney Breen-Portnoy, Algemeiner, Oct. 22, 2017—Residents of Israel’s Golan Heights region are on edge following the latest exchange of fire on the border with Syria.

As ISIS’ Role in Syria Wanes, Other Conflicts Take the Stage: Anne Barnard & Hwaida Saad, New York Times, Oct. 19, 2017— American-backed forces have barely begun to clear the land mines from Raqqa after pushing the Islamic State from the city, the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate.

Moscow Nears ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Syria: Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, Oct. 23, 2017— By the end of this year, Syria will be free of Islamic State, apart from small pockets that will disappear with time

Iran Steps Up Its Economic Domination in Syria: Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Dr. Shimon Shapira, JCPA, Oct. 19, 2017— With the approaching military defeat of the Islamic State, Iran is stepping up its economic involvement in Syria.








The Race for the Ruins: Jonathan Spyer, Breaking Israel News, May 29, 2017— Events taking place in a remote stretch of south east Syrian desert in recent days reveal the current direction of US Middle East strategy.

Iran’s Foreign Legion in Syria: Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, JCPA, May 28, 2017— Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and especially since the advent of the Islamic State (ISIS) and its franchises in the Arab Middle East and Africa…

Jordan's Syrian Adventure: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, May 14, 2017 — In 1970, Syrian forces invaded Jordan to assist the Palestine Liberation Organization in its fight against King Hussein, the father of King Abdullah, and bring down the Hashemite Kingdom.

Syria, a Modern Day Holocaust?: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017 — In a press conference Monday, the US accused the Syrian regime of using a crematorium to dispose of bodies to cover up extensive mass murders by the government.


On Topic Links


Israeli Minister Calls for Assassination of Syria's Assad: Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017

Assad’s Survival Is in Israel’s Best Interest: Dr. Edy Cohen, BESA, May 25, 2017

Can ISIS Survive the Caliphate's Collapse?: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Middle East Forum, May 16, 2017

Assad's Hollow Crown: A Journey through Regime-Held Syria: Jonathan Spyer, The Jerusalem Report, May 9, 2017





Jonathan Spyer

Breaking Israel News, May 29, 2017


Events taking place in a remote stretch of south east Syrian desert in recent days reveal the current direction of US Middle East strategy. An observable ratcheting up of US and allied air and special forces activity in eastern Syria is currently under way. This in turn appears to derive from a new, hard-nosed understanding of the nature of the strategic game in the large, strife-ridden area covering what was once Syria and Iraq.


On Thursday, May 18th, US aircraft launched strikes on a column of Assad regime vehicles including tanks and earth-movers, 18 miles from the town of al-Tanf, on the Syrian-Iraqi border. The strikes took place after the vehicles entered an agreed deconfliction zone around the town.  US and British special forces are currently training ‘vetted partner forces’, ie Syrian Sunni Arab rebels in the town.


This was the second occasion in recent weeks that US aircraft have directly engaged against Assad’s forces.  On the first occasion, the target was the al-Shayrat airbase.  That raid took place on April 6.  It was a clear retaliation for the regime’s use of sarin gas at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.  The Shayrat raid was generally interpreted as a belated attempt to enforce the American ‘red line’ against further regime use of chemical weapons. As such, it was not widely seen as indicating a more general change of policy.


The attack on the column near al-Tanf, by contrast, was not preceded by any unusual regime activity, apart from the approach of the column itself, and its too close vicinity to western forces.  On Monday, the pro-opposition website Syria Direct quoted an un-named US military spokesman as saying that ‘if pro-regime forces move further south or east from their current positions, this will be considered a threat.’ The website also reported that regime forces are preparing to move toward the Badia area, a stretch of desert to the north east of al-Tanf.


What is the significance of this butting of heads? The battle against the territorial holdings of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is reaching its final phase.  The re-conquest of Mosul is almost done.  The assault on Raqqa city, the capital city of the Caliphate is about to begin.  It is set to be a hard and bloody fight.  But its eventual outcome is not in question.  Islamic State as an entity controlling ground will be destroyed. At which point the movement will revert back to its former status as a clandestine terror network.  As the eclipse of the Caliphate draws near, the race is opening up to inherit its former domains.


The competitors in this contest are Iran and its various allies and proxies, and forces associated with the west and the Sunni Arab states. The Iranians and their allies want to penetrate IS territory from west to east – with the Iraqi Shia militias pushing westwards from Tel Afar and Assad regime forces and pro-Assad militias (including Hizballah) probing east. The regime forces nosing around in al Tanf are in the process of seeking to seize border areas with both Jordan and Iraq.  The US is determined to prevent that.  The town of Deir al-Zour and the surrounding oil rich areas will form an important part of the prize.


Pro-western forces, meanwhile are pushing north from Jordan and south from the Kurdish-controlled area north of the IS enclave.  The forces engaged on this side are the Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by the Kurdish YPG, and the Maghawir a-Thawra (Commandos of the Revolution, formerly the New Syrian Army) rebels, supported by the US, UK and Jordan, from the south. The outcome of this contest is of strategic significance, despite the remote and arid nature of much of the territory concerned.  The Iranians want to create a contiguous line of territory controlled by themselves and their allies stretching from Iraq into Syria, and thence to the Mediterranean Sea and the border with Israel.


Islamic State has formed a buffer against the achievement of this goal.  But Islamic State, in the usual manner of Sunni Salafi organizations when they control territory, declined to be satisfied with the stewardship of a small domain.  Instead, the Sunni jihadis elected to declare war on the west, using the territory as a base to hold and execute captured western prisoners, to prepare attacks against western civilian targets, to administer a regional network of franchise groups, and to attempt genocide against a non-Muslim population, the Yezidis.  As a result, the west, unsurprisingly, made it a goal to destroy the Islamic State. The question now is who will inherit.  The Americans, it appears, have understood that to stand a chance of re-establishing influence and standing in the region, and beginning the process of turning back the Iranian advance, it is necessary to have skin in the game, ie to develop reliable proxies and have them control ground, in this pivotal area.


Only thus can a contiguous line of Iranian control from the Iraq-Iran border to the Mediterranean and Israel be prevented.  Only thus will the US be able to prevent an eventual outcome in Syria and in Iraq entirely favorable to the Iranians.  Hence the development by the US Department of Defense of the relationships with the YPG and elements among the Jordan-supported Sunni Arab rebels in the south.


It is worth also noting that the outcome in eastern Syria is not of primary interest to the Russians. Russia wants to preserve the regime in existence and to keep its naval investments in Latakia Province. Neither of these interests is threatened by events further east.  Controlling the east is an Iranian and Assad regime goal only.


The outcome of this emergent contest will be of deep interest also to Israeli strategic planners.  While some recent analysis has suggested that Israel favors or should favor allowing IS to continue in existence as a quasi-state, it is obvious that this is no longer an option.  Syria as a state has largely ceased to exist.  The question now, as it is parceled out into zones of influence, is who will gain and who will lose. Alongside the military jockeying on the ground, the diplomatic processes in Astana and Geneva will sputter on. Their eventual outcome, though, will depend on the balance of forces on the ground.  Iran wants its contiguous line not least in order to move weaponry and fighters both in preparation for and no less importantly in the course of a future war with Israel.  Preventing this is an Israeli national security interest par excellence.


This emergent US strategy has not yet been officially confirmed.  Indeed, Defense Secretary James Mattis was quoted by Agence France Presse after the al-Tanf strike as denying that the raid heralded any ‘increased role’ for the US in the Syrian war. The pattern on the ground suggests otherwise.  The United States Administration has defined the Iranians and the Sunni jihadis of IS as its main adversaries in the region.   Eastern Syria is an area where the defeat of the latter by pro-western forces will constitute also a setback also for the former.  This is a game which is now afoot.  Much depends on its outcome.




Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah

JCPA, May 28, 2017


Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria and especially since the advent of the Islamic State (ISIS) and its franchises in the Arab Middle East and Africa, world attention has been focused on the foreign volunteers who flocked by the thousands to boost the ranks of the jihadist militias, mainly the ranks of the Islamic State and Al-Qaida. The attacks perpetrated in Europe, the United States, and throughout the world, by terrorists who were trained and inspired by the jihadist organizations, emphasizes the need to understand the phenomena to combat it better. Many analysts concentrated on the hordes of jihadi volunteers from more than 80 nations and warned about the dangers of those fighters returning home to become sleeper operatives.


By contrast, while there is considerable media coverage about the foreign jihadists and while the Western coalition tries to contain the flow of new recruits to ISIS, under the radar and almost unnoticed, Iran managed to deploy in Syria its own fighters and proxy armies to fight for the Assad regime’s survival in Syria. While the jihadist organizations recruited their volunteers from the Sunni Muslim world, Iran turned to the Shiite populations to supply the needed manpower for Iran’s Syrian front.


Reluctant to get involved directly in the civil war, the Iranians chose to send a limited operational force to Syria, mainly advisers from the Revolutionary Guards and other elite units. The assessment is that there are about 1,500-3,000 Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers present in Syria and serving mainly as advisers responsible for logistics, intelligence gathering, and training. As a result, regional Shiite forces answer directly to Tehran’s orders since they were created by Iran and made to serve first and foremost Iranian policy in the region. According to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard officer, the Guard has formed and trained 42 brigades and 138 battalions, all sent to defend the Assad regime!


At least five national entities were to provide the manpower to serve the Iranian agenda in Syria: Hizbullah – the Lebanese, Shiite, Iranian-backed military organization; Afghan “Fatimiyoun and Khadem el-‘Aqila Brigades“; Pakistani “Zainebiyoun Brigade”; Yemeni Houthis “Liwa Al-Saada“; Iraqi Shiite militias, of which “Al-Nujaba Movement” has a special significance for Israel. All military units receive their orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Their salaries, equipment, and training are totally under Iranian supervision and control. They are coordinated by the Quds Division of the Revolutionary Guards, commanded by Qasem Soleimani, even though each division enjoys a relatively high degree of autonomy.


Hizbullah’s presence in Syria was first publicized in the battle of Al-Qusayr (Homs Directorate) in 2013 and is at the center of public debate in Lebanon. While Hizbullah has been criticized because of its participation in the battle against Sunni rebel movements, no political force in Lebanon has dared to challenge its autonomy and force. Hizbullah’s militia answers to the command of the Lebanese army. Hizbullah has been parading U.S. equipment (M-113 armored personnel carriers) provided by the United States to the Lebanese Army while claiming that these were Israeli armored vehicles seized during the 2006 Second Lebanese war.


The “Fatimiyoun Brigade” (Liwa’ Al-Fatimiyoun): The Brigade (3,500 fighters) was founded in 2013 by the Revolutionary Guard and was recruited from Afghani refugees residing in Iran. Hizbullah in Lebanon utilized this same source of manpower, becoming a so-to-speak “Hizbullah of Afghanistan.” Both Iran and Hizbullah took advantage of the economic and political plight of the Afghan refugees seeking asylum in Iran, enrolling them in the military units meant to fight alongside Assad’s forces in Syria. The Afghans, originating mostly from southern Afghanistan, an area adjacent to the Pakistani-Iranian borders, spent large amounts of money to finance their illegal entry to Iran. They travel from the Afghan province to Pakistani Baluchistan bordering the Pakistani frontier, their first stop before arriving in Iran. Iran represents not only a political safe haven for those Afghans fleeing the war in their country but presents an opportunity to acquire economic benefit. An average Afghan receives a monthly salary of $80 in Afghanistan, while he could be paid almost four-fold in Iran ($320). According to some sources, the Afghans repatriate almost $500 million dollars annually to their mother country from their Iranian “employer.”


However, being an illegal Afghan resident in Iran is not without disadvantages. The Afghans are mistreated and can be jailed for no apparent reason for periods of time sometimes extending to a few months. Still 500 to 600 illegal Afghans enter Iran per month. While hundreds are confined at the end of their journey in refugee camps in Iran, the luckiest will obtain a work permit; others will get involved in drug trafficking or try to find a way to filter themselves to Europe. Hundreds of them are routinely caught at the borders and deported back to Afghanistan.


When Iran looked at the dire situation of the Assad regime and tried to find ways to assist Assad without getting involved with Iranian “boots on the ground,” the alternative offered by the Afghans was ideal. They were Shiites, of Farsi-speaking ethnicity (the Hazara). With $350-500 for monthly pay and with a permanent residency permit granted to the Afghan refugee after his return from Syria, the Iranian regime succeeded in recruiting the necessary manpower needed to bolster the Syrian regime. Moreover, unlike an Iranian fighter, as an illegal migrant with an unknown identity, an Afghan killed in action would not be a burden to the Iranian treasury. Most importantly, Iran could easily deny its involvement and its intervention. Were it not for the scores of Afghans killed in battle and others taken prisoners by the rebels, Iran would not have had to accept any responsibility concerning the Afghani presence. When Iran finally decided to relate to the Afghans, Iran stated that they died while protecting the Shiite shrines in Syria…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]







Prof. Eyal Zisser

Israel Hayom, May 14, 2017


In 1970, Syrian forces invaded Jordan to assist the Palestine Liberation Organization in its fight against King Hussein, the father of King Abdullah, and bring down the Hashemite Kingdom. At the request of the U.S., Israel stepped up to help Jordan. The IDF was put on alert and the Syrians received a stern message from Jerusalem via Washington that if the Syrian forces continued to advance into Jordan, Israel would intervene in the ensuing battles. The aggressive message was effective, and the Syrians had other good reasons to stop before it was too late. The Syrian forces retreated back into Syria, and Jordan and the U.S. were in Israel's debt.


Almost 50 years have passed, and now it's Jordan that, according to reports in the Arab media, is about to deploy forces to Syria. The Jordanians want to establish a security buffer zone along their border with Syria that will keep the Islamic State at bay, but will also serve as a barrier in case Iranian or Hezbollah operatives try to gain a foothold in southern Syria.


All these events are taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing Syrian civil war. It hasn't come to any surprising halt, and anyone who erroneously thought a few months ago that the capture of Aleppo, the country's second-biggest city, by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces and his allies meant that victory was already in the hands of Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Iranians, is now finding out that Damascus and Moscow were too quick to celebrate. The Russians lack the forces, whether Syrian or Iranian, to be able to put down the rebellion and deploy across the entire country to maintain peace and quiet. The rebels continue to fight, and are even landing blows to the Syrian army.


So the Russians are promoting the establishment of protected areas, which in effect mean that Syria is divided into areas of influence for the various players. The Turks will keep the area in northern Syria they currently control; the Americans and the Kurds will keep their hold in the eastern part of the country (if they can drive out the Islamic State), and even the Jordanians will be given their own area in the south of Syria. The Russians, on the other hand, will go unsatiated and will have to give up about three-quarters of Syrian territory, but by doing so will ensure that Assad remains in power in western Syria, the populated and important part of the country.


Like Israel, Jordan is faced with a difficult challenge. The Islamic State is digging in along its northern border. The group has an active affiliate in the area of the Yarmouk Basin (the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army), and its fighters are also present to the east, along hundreds of kilometers of the Jordanian-Syrian border. Two years ago, Islamic State even tried to breach Jabal al-Druze in southwest Syria, but was repelled. The organization is responsible for a long list of terrorist attacks along the border and what's worse, its terrorist activity is penetrating the kingdom. Islamic State operatives have already carried out a number of painful attacks within Jordan. But if in the past the obvious conclusion was that Assad was preferable to the Islamic State, the choice today is between the Islamic State and Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the Jordanians don't want either. So Jordan is being forced to consider intervening in Syria with the help of the Bedouin tribes on the Syrian side of the border, and possibly even some Druze who are afraid of what will befall them.


Israel, on the other hand, cannot allow itself to intervene in the Syrian civil war directly, and it's also clear that the good will it is acquiring on the other side of the border by providing medical and humanitarian aid is not enough. For now, Jerusalem is pinning its hopes on Moscow preventing an Iranian presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, but the Russians have their own interests in Syria, and has been proven repeatedly in the past. This might be the time to look into other creative solutions. Once, Israel was concerned about the development of a hostile eastern front that would stretch from Rosh Hanikra to Aqaba. Today, Israel shares a peaceful eastern border with Jordan, but it wouldn't hurt if the Jordan buffer zone were to extend north to the Golan.                                                                        




Seth J. Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017


In a press conference Monday, the US accused the Syrian regime of using a crematorium to dispose of bodies to cover up extensive mass murders by the government. The United States is upping its rhetoric to encourage Russia to exercise influence over Damascus and stop the abuses. It is a clear message to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Moscow on the eve of President Donald Trump’s Middle East trip. The stark black-and-white photos of the alleged crematorium also echo images from the Holocaust.


In the short briefing, acting assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones outlined how the Syrian conflict had left more than 400,000 dead. Basing his claims on reports of international and local NGOs as well as intelligence assessments, Jones provided a laundry list of regime abuses that he said underscored the depth of support from Russia and Iran. “The regime has abducted between 65,000 and 117,000 [people] between 2011 and 2015,” the statement said. In addition, up to 50 prisoners a day at Saydnaya prison were executed. Many were buried in mass graves, but the US says a building modified after 2013 may be a crematorium. Jones, who was present at the recent deescalation talks in Astana, stressed that Russia must “bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance” with stopping attacks on civilians.


Tough language, but why now? Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said this is not the first time evidence has emerged of Assad’s role in widespread mass murder of prisoners and detainees. An Amnesty International report titled “Human Slaughterhouse,” published in February, included interviews with prisoners who said up to 100 people were hung a week. “What we are hearing that is new is the claim that the regime built a crematorium to do away with corpses. They have released overhead photographs and one needs to take a look and experts would need to assess the veracity; all we can do is think of the feasibility of it. You have a large number of corpses and need to get rid of them, one [method] is burning or mass burials. It’s not in anyway beyond the realm of possibility.”


Burning people would remove the evidence of war crimes at a prison only 45 minutes from Damascus. Mohammed Ruzgar, a Syrian journalist, said he has heard rumors that the regime was burning bodies from many sources, but could not verify it. “It’s to remove evidence,” he said. At the beginning of the conflict, the regime often detained Syrians, and tortured and killed them. Ruzgar said that in the old days, the bodies would be returned to families, “but later we did not hear about families receiving dead bodies.” Even mass graves would eventually be found, he said. “The US is [bringing up this issue] to use as leverage against Russia.”


Spyer agrees that what we are seeing is a change in tone from the US. “This is not the first instance, this is a tougher tone, and put that together with Tomahawk missiles [launched against Syria on April 7], a sense of some kind of shift. Does that presage a major policy shift by US administration? It is hard to imagine how that can happen,” he said. Spyer argues that the deepening Russian role in the last years means the US cannot go to war with the regime without going to war with Russia. He forecasts a toughening of the US tone and increasing diplomatic pressure. “It’s an insane regime and good that the administration is telling people about it.”…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Israeli Minister Calls for Assassination of Syria's Assad: Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2017—Housing Minister Yoav Galant on Tuesday condemned the genocide taking place in Syria, adding that “it is time to eliminate” President Bashar Assad, following US accusations that the regime is using a crematorium to hide atrocities being committed outside Damascus.

Assad’s Survival Is in Israel’s Best Interest: Dr. Edy Cohen, BESA, May 25, 2017—Unlike his immediate predecessor, US president Donald Trump did not stand idly by in the wake of a Syrian toxic chemical attack, but launched fifty-nine cruise missiles at the airport from which President Bashar Assad had carried out the strike.

Can ISIS Survive the Caliphate's Collapse?: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Middle East Forum, May 16, 2017—The Arabic word baqiya ("remaining") is one of the most common adjectives associated with the Islamic State (aka ISIS), dating back to its earliest incarnation that claimed to be a state: namely, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

Assad's Hollow Crown: A Journey through Regime-Held Syria: Jonathan Spyer, The Jerusalem Report, May 9, 2017—The mortar shells came early in the morning. At about 5. At regular intervals. Solemn and sinister. They were a reminder of how close it all was.












Passover – We Have Reason to Rejoice: Isi Leibler, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 9, 2017 — Tonight, most Israelis, secular as well as observant, will celebrate Passover, the festival of freedom in which we recount our life of slavery and exodus from Egypt and how we became a nation.

Passover Guide for the Perplexed, 2017: Yoram Ettinger, Jewish Press, Apr. 9, 2017 — 1. According to Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet, “Since the Exodus, freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent.”

Assad Had Every Reason to Believe he Would Get Away with Another Chemical Attack. But Trump Surprised Him: Michael Petrou, National Post, Apr. 7, 2017 — “The United States, they play with us, and they lie to us,” Mohammad Gohoul said this February as he sat on the floor of an apartment in Gaziantep, Turkey, where he now lives as a refuge after fleeing Syria and the tortures he endured there.

Did Putin Get the Message?: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Apr. 8, 2017 — After the Trump administration's strike on the Shayrat airfield Thursday, lawmakers, analysts, and the press are asking if the White House has a next move.


On Topic Links


Exodus – The Secret of Our Nationhood: Dr. Michael Laitman, Breaking Israel News, Apr. 9, 2017

Tillerson, McMaster, Blame Russia for US Attack on Syria: Jewish Press, Apr. 7, 2017

What Can We Expect in Wake of Syria Chemical Attack?: Clarion Project, Apr. 9, 2017

On Moral Rearmament of the West: David M. Weinberg, Israel Hayom, Apr. 8, 2017




                                                 Isi Leibler                                                                                                                         Jerusalem Post, Apr. 9, 2017


Tonight, most Israelis, secular as well as observant, will celebrate Passover, the festival of freedom in which we recount our life of slavery and exodus from Egypt and how we became a nation. The Haggada that we read at the Passover Seder also carries a universal theme of human rights but its focus is the Jewish People, stressing our shared past and our aspirations for a renewal of Jewish sovereignty during 2,000 years of harrowing exile, endless persecutions, expulsion and attempted genocide.


We read in the Haggada that “in every generation they rise against us to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from them.” We appeal to the Almighty to “pour out Thy wrath” against the wicked and destroy them. The Haggada recounts the Egyptians’ pattern of Jew-hatred: they envied the prosperity of their Jewish minority, enslaved and ultimately engaged in genocide with Pharaoh’s decree to drown all newborn Jewish males. This pattern has recurred throughout the generations as we faced successive enemies: the pagans, the church, secular racist Jew-haters, Nazis and communists. And today there is a global tsunami of antisemitism, especially in Europe where Jews are being transformed into pariahs.


The current threat emanates from the bizarre combination of Islamists and radical leftists, who are renewing the vicious antisemitic propaganda of the 1930s that was a precursor to the Holocaust. In its current manifestation, it is also directed against the Jewish national homeland – the only nation-state in the world whose right to exist is under threat. It is horrifying to observe the culture of death and destruction in the Middle East, the barbaric bloodbaths and millions of civilians displaced from their homes. When we witness the Iranian leaders repeatedly proclaiming their genocidal objectives, we are instinctively reminded of Amalek.


But on Passover, we give thanks to the Almighty and rejoice that our days of powerlessness belong to the past and that we are now strong enough to deter and if necessary overcome the combined forces of all our adversaries. Today we have a State of Israel that provides a haven to all Jews wishing to settle in the Jewish homeland. Other elements in the Haggada resonate with different issues facing us today. Ha Lachma Anya (the bread of affliction) reminds us not to be complacent and to be concerned about the poor and needy and of the scandal of the neglected elderly Holocaust survivors who have been denied the minimum material support to enable them to live out their few remaining years in dignity.


A discussion of the Four Sons can relate to the identity challenges facing Israelis and Diaspora Jews. The chacham, the wise son, is the committed Jew. The tam, the simple son, and she’eino yodea lishol, the one who does not know to ask, are the products of assimilation and loss of Jewish identity. This includes those deprived of a Jewish education by their parents, or those who are apathetic, lazy and unsophisticated, with no desire to acquaint themselves with their Jewish heritage. Ultimately, many become indifferent and disappear. The rasha, the wicked son, symbolizes those Jews who vilify their people. In the contemporary context, this includes Jews engaged in public efforts to undermine Israel, those supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and those allying themselves with our enemies against the Jewish state. Alas, of late, several prominent American Jewish leaders have joined this category.


In Israel, their counterparts are those who seek to transform Israel from a Jewish state to a state of all its citizens or who promote the false narrative of those seeking our destruction. The Haggada poses problems for secular humanist interpretations of history because reason alone cannot explain the unprecedented events associated with our ongoing national renaissance. If one objectively reviews our status, the host of fortuitous “coincidences” that we have witnessed since the rebirth of a Jewish state, there is a strong case to consider that our survival and thriving existence after 2,000 years of dispersion is no less miraculous than the exodus from Egypt.


The greatest miracle was the reestablishment of a Jewish state, which rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Holocaust, when at the United Nations, during the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union for the first time voted together in favor of the creation of a Jewish state. Subsequently, the fledgling state, against all odds, defeated the combined forces of surrounding Arab states, which was later followed with the miracle of the Six Day War.


Another miracle key to Israel’s survival has been kibbutz galuyot – the ingathering of the exiles – in which Jews from all corners of the world, from the former Soviet Union to Ethiopia, made aliya, swelling Israel’s Jewish population from 600,0000 in 1948 to over six million today. Israel has successfully integrated new immigrants, molding them into a vibrant nation in which ancient Hebrew was revived as a living language. We have benefited from a mass aliya which ensued from the extraordinary liberation of Soviet Jewry, spearheaded by a few hundred assimilated Jews who courageously triumphed against the most powerful totalitarian country in the world…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Yoram Ettinger                                                                                        

Jewish Press, Apr. 9, 2017


1. According to Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet, “Since the Exodus, freedom has always spoken with a Hebrew accent.”


2. Moses’ “Let my people go” paved the road to the Exodus. In 1850, it became a code song for black slaves, who were freed by Harriet Tubman’s (“Mama Moses”) “Underground Railroad.” Paul Robeson and Louis Armstrong enhanced its popularity through the lyrics: “When Israel was Egypt’s land, let my people go! Oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go! Go down Moses, way down in Egypt’s land; tell old Pharaoh to let my people go….!”  On December 11, 1964, upon accepting the Nobel Prize, Martin Luther King, Jr., “the Moses of his age”, said: “The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people go!’”


3. The Exodus has been an integral part of the American story since the landing of the 17th century early Pilgrims, who considered themselves “the people of the modern day Exodus,” who departed from “the modern day Egypt” (Britain), rebelled against “the modern day Pharaoh,” (King James I and King Charles I), crossed “the modern day Red Sea” (the Atlantic Ocean) and headed toward “the modern day Promised Land” (America).  Hence, the abundance of US sites bearing Biblical names, such as Jerusalem, Salem (the original name of Jerusalem), Bethel, Shiloh, Ephrata’, Tekoa’, Bethlehem, Moriah, Zion, etc.


4. The Exodus is mentioned 50 times in the Torah, equal to the 50 years of the Jubilee – the Biblical symbol of liberty – which is featured on the Liberty Bell (installed in 1751 – the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges): “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus, 25:10).”  Moses received the Torah – which includes 50 gates of wisdom – 50 days following the Exodus, as celebrated by the Shavou’ot/Pentecost Holiday. And, there are 50 States in the United States, whose Hebrew name is ארצות הברית, the States of the Covenant.


5. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense – “the cement of the Revolution” – referred to King George as “the hardened, sullen-tempered Pharaoh of England.”  John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – the 2nd and 3rd US presidents – and Benjamin Franklin, proposed the Parting of the Sea as the official US seal. The proposal was tabled, but the chosen seal features thirteen stars (colonies), above the Eagle, in the shape of a Star of David. Ezra Stiles, the President of Yale University – which features on its shield “Urim and Thummim,” the power of the High Priest during the Exodus – stated on May 8, 1873: “Moses, the man of God, assembled three million people, the number of people in America in 1776.” Theodore White wrote in The Making of the President 1960: “It is as if Kennedy, a younger Moses, had led an elderly Joshua [LBJ] to the height of Mount Nebo…and there shown him the Promised Land which he himself would never be entering, but which Joshua would make his own.”  In 2017, the bust of Moses faces the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and eight statues and engravings of Moses and the Tablets are featured in the US Supreme Court.


6. A documentation of the Exodus – which took place in the second half of the 15th century BCE, during the reign of Egypt’s Amenhotep II – was provided by the late Prof. Yehudah Elitzur, one of Israel’s pioneers of Biblical research. Accordingly, the 40-year national coalescing of the Jewish people – while wandering in the desert – took place when Egypt was ruled by Thutmose IV. Joshua conquered Canaan when Egypt was ruled by Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV, who were preoccupied with domestic affairs, refraining from expansionist operations. Moreover, letters which were discovered in Tel el Amarna, the capital city of ancient Egypt, documented that the 14th century BCE Pharaoh, Amenhotep IV, was informed by the rulers of Jerusalem, Samaria and other parts of Canaan, about a military offensive launched by the “Habirus” (Hebrews and other Semitic tribes), which corresponded to the timing of Joshua’s offensive against the same rulers. Amenhotep IV was a determined reformer, who introduced monotheism, possibly influenced by the nationally and religiously game-changing Exodus.  Further documentation of the Exodus is provided by Dr. Joshua Berman of Bar Ilan University.


7. Passover is the oldest Jewish national liberation holiday, highlighting the mutually-inclusive aspects of Judaism: religion, nationality, culture/morality, language and history. Passover highlights individual and national liberty and optimism, which have played a critical role in preserving Judaism, Jews and the yearning to reconstruct the Jewish Homeland, in defiance of the 40 years in the desert and the 2,500 year of exile, destruction, pogroms, the Holocaust, boycotts, wars, terrorism and anti-Semitism.


8. Passover stipulates that human rejuvenation – just like the rejuvenation of nature – must be driven by roots/memory/history. Therefore, parents are instructed to educate their children about the lessons of Passover. Passover was an early edition of the 19th century Spring of Nations. It is celebrated in the spring, the bud of nature. Spring is mentioned 3 times in the Torah, all in reference to the Exodus. Passover – which commemorates the creation of the Jewish nation – lasts seven days, just like the creation of the universe.


9. Passover’s centrality in Judaism is highlighted by the first of the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The Passover ethos is included in daily Jewish prayers, Shabbat and holiday prayers, the blessing over the wine, the blessing upon circumcision, the prayer fixed in the Mezuzah (doorpost) and in the annual family retelling of the Exodus on the eve of Passover. Passover symbolizes the unity of – and interdependence between – the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the Land of Israel…                                                                                                 

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




BUT TRUMP SURPRISED HIM                                                               

Michael Petrou                                                                                                   

National Post, Apr. 7, 2017


“The United States, they play with us, and they lie to us,” Mohammad Gohoul said this February as he sat on the floor of an apartment in Gaziantep, Turkey, where he now lives as a refuge after fleeing Syria and the tortures he endured there. Gohoul took part in the demonstrations against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad that broke out in 2011. He says he wanted Syrians to live in a democracy. “We would go to Western embassies and leave flowers there,” he says, a gesture of admiration and a request for support.


Assad met these protests with deadly force. Gohoul was arrested. In his Gaziantep apartment, he showed how he was blindfolded and his hands were bound while he was beaten and shocked with electricity. “For nine months, I didn’t see the sun,” he said. After his release, he went to opposition-held Aleppo and then came to Turkey when Aleppo fell to the Syrian regime late last year. When Gohoul and other Syrians speak of America’s “lies” and games, they refer to an August 2011 statement made by then-U.S. President Barack Obama that Assad should step aside, which wasn’t followed by any steps to make that happen, and especially to Obama’s “red line” comments on the use of chemical weapons.


Such an event, Obama said in 2012, would change his “calculus” regarding military engagement in Syria. But when Assad’s regime launched a sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta the following year, killing some 1,400 civilians, Obama famously backed away from retaliation. Instead, he agreed to a Russian-brokered deal that was supposed to have resulted in Syria giving up its chemical weapons stockpiles. The utter failure of Obama’s decision has been exposed with horrific results by this week’s poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria. More than 80 people were killed, including at least 27 children.


Assad had every reason to believe he would get away with it. The current American president, Donald Trump, made his isolationist bent explicitly clear shortly after the Ghouta chemical weapons attack and while Obama was still president: “We should stop talking, stay out of Syria and other countries that hate us, rebuild our own country and make it strong and great again-USA!” he tweeted in 2013. And just last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Assad’s rule was a “political reality that we have to accept.” Assad, it seemed, could count on U.S. ambivalence regardless of his crimes.


Instead, Trump surprised the world. The 59 cruise missiles he ordered launched at the Shayrat Airfield, from where America believes the chemical weapons attack originated, represent a stark policy reversal for the U.S. president. It is one for which he deserves credit. It is worth underlining that while Obama publicly sought to rebuild America’s relations with the “Muslim world,” he did little while Syria was torn asunder, and while Assad brought death to hundreds of thousands of its citizens. It is Trump, for all his Muslim-bashing nativism, who has finally deployed American military force against the most prolific murderer in that country.


Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland delivered an awkwardly worded statement yesterday in which she said Assad’s chemical attack “raises grave questions” about the possibility of working with his regime. But Prime Minister Trudeau — also to his credit — has said Canada “fully supports” the American airstrikes. That statement puts Canada alongside many American allies, including its traditional Sunni Muslim ones in the Middle East, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, which had been disappointed by Obama’s decision not to strike Syria four years ago. Trump’s decision will go some way toward improving those strained ties…                                                                                                                                       

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                     




DID PUTIN GET THE MESSAGE?                                                                          

Lee Smith                                                                                                     

Weekly Standard, Apr. 8, 2017


After the Trump administration's strike on the Shayrat airfield Thursday, lawmakers, analysts, and the press are asking if the White House has a next move. Certainly it was important to signal that the use of chemical weapons is something the United States could not tolerate. As President Trump explained Thursday, it is a "vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons." That is, the Trump administration enforced the redline against the use of chemical weapons that the previous White House ignored. Further, by citing the possible "spread" of those unconventional arms, Trump was alluding to the organization that is the likeliest recipient of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal—Hezbollah, Iran's praetorian guard in the eastern Mediterranean.


Thus the strike underscored that the Trump administration's understanding of the Syrian conflict is broader than that of its predecessor. Where the Obama White House limited its focus in the Syrian arena to an anti-ISIS campaign, Trump struck a blow against the Iranian axis. Tehran and its allies are no longer dealing with an American president eager to strike a bargain with them. The new White House has put Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad on notice. However, the 59 tomahawk missiles launched at Shayrat is perhaps best understood as a message to Russia.


The White House acted less than 48 hours after receiving intelligence regarding Tuesday's chemical weapons attack. The Trump White House knew immediately who was behind the attack and named names—Syrian government forces. The Russians were putting out a different story. They claimed that Jabhat al-Nusra had a chemical weapons factory in Khan Shaykun and that a strike with attack helicopters created the plume that killed civilians on Tuesday.


"We know from our ability to monitor that this story was false," a senior administration official told the Weekly Standard. "The aircraft that flew from Shayrat airbase to Khan Shaykun were tracked. Furthermore, no group like Nusra has ever had ever had the ability to make Sarin in Syria. To weaponize Sarin is quite a sophisticated thing. Opposition groups have not shown that they have that ability, but the Assad regime does." Presumably, the American government had access to the same intelligence resources when Assad previously used chemical weapons. However, the Obama administration's standard response was to ignore intelligence regarding the use of Syria's unconventional arsenal and avoid or downplay attribution of responsibility.


For instance, when Israeli intelligence showed in April 2013 who was responsible for gassing men, women, and children,a Pentagon official contended that "the use of chemical weapons in an environment like Syria is very difficult to confirm." When Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Washington in May 2013 and brought evidence of the attacks and intelligence regarding who conducted and ordered them, President Obama said that he needed "specific information about what exactly is happening there." Thus, there should have been little surprise when Obama decided not to strike Assad regime targets in September 2013 to enforce the American redline against the use of chemical weapons. Obama had shown repeatedly that he resisted blaming Assad for deploying chemical weapons—punishing him for it was almost unimaginable.


However, Obama's failure to act is not because of what Trump White House officials like Sean Spicer are calling his "weakness." No, the previous president brushed aside intelligence and then walked back military force because he believed that an attack on Assad was likely to crash his signature foreign policy initiative, the nuclear agreement with Iran. The Iran deal shaped both Syria policy (an anti-ISIS campaign predicated on leaving Assad untouched) and the Obama administration's larger Middle East strategy, a realignment with Iran. Obama downgraded traditional allies like Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and NATO member Turkey, while upgrading the Iranians, and opening wide a window of opportunity for Russia, grateful to once again be a player in the Middle East, after a forty-year absence.


Thursday's operation should be seen as part of a broader effort to rebalance America's regional interests in opposition to the Iranian axis and Russia. The tomahawk strikes were the big news of the week, overshadowing the fact that the new White House welcomed the leaders of two traditional American regional allies—Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and King Abdullah of Jordan. Sisi was treated as a leper by the Obama administration, and Abdullah sidelined. If the Jordanian king was concerned about the presence of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia on his border, the Obama White House told him to take his concerns to Moscow, where Sisi also visited hat in hand. They had no choice—the Obama administration was not interested in protecting the regional security architecture the United States had built over 70 years…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Chag Sameach!

No Daily Briefing Will Be Published on Tuesday, Apr. 10




On Topic Links


Exodus – The Secret of Our Nationhood: Dr. Michael Laitman, Breaking Israel News, Apr. 9, 2017—Each Passover, we focus our attention on the historic struggle between Moses and Pharaoh, and the enslavement of the Hebrews. Yet, the story of our people in Egypt is more than a collective memory; it is an accurate depiction of our current situation.

Tillerson, McMaster, Blame Russia for US Attack on Syria: Jewish Press, Apr. 7, 2017—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Director H. R. McMaster on Thursday held a press conference to review the sudden change in US policy regarding Syria, pinning the responsibility for the nerve gas attack against Syrian civilians on President Bashar al-Assad’s chief enabler, the Russian government.

What Can We Expect in Wake of Syria Chemical Attack? (Video): Clarion Project, Apr. 9, 2017

On Moral Rearmament of the West: David M. Weinberg, Israel Hayom, Apr. 8, 2017— According to an in-depth survey published last week in Israel Hayom, Israeli youth believe deeply and optimistically in the future of this country. 85% of Israeli kids in grades 11 and 12 love the country. 89% plan to stay here, no matter what. 85% think that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. 65% say it would be worthy to die for country, if necessary. 63% feel that social solidarity, volunteerism, and family values are what make Israel great.























As We Go To Press: Several Dead in Stockholm Truck Attack—A truck drove into pedestrians in a busy shopping area of central Stockholm on Friday, killing several people and leaving many wounded in what Sweden’s prime minister called a “terror attack.” The attack appeared drawn from the playbook of low-tech terrorism—mowing down pedestrians with a vehicle—used by suspected Islamic State supporters in London last month and other European cities last year. Sweden’s security services, known as SäPo, said they had launched an investigation to determine the identity of the perpetrator and possible accomplices. “Sweden has been attacked,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said. It wasn’t immediately clear if the driver of the truck died in the attack or managed to escape. (Wall Street Journal, Apr. 7, 2017)


Trump’s Syria Opportunity: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6, 2017— President Trump inherited the Syrian catastrophe from Barack Obama, and his initial instincts were to accept the awful status quo.

Trump’s Strike Signals to Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad: The Party’s Over: Avi Issacharoff, Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017 — It would be wrong to get too carried away by the overnight US missile strike on the Syrian airbase…

Trump’s Choice on Assad: Jonathan S. Tobin, National Review, Apr. 6, 2017 — As late as earlier this week, some in the White House were saying that for the U.S. to pursue the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would be “silly.”

Celebrating Jerusalem at 'Hakotel': David M. Weinberg, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2017 — Over the next three months, there will be many jubilee celebrations of Jerusalem’s unification.


On Topic Links


Happy Passover Video: CIJR, Apr. 7, 2017

Transcript of President Trump’s Remarks about Airstrikes in Syria: David Israel, Jewish Press, Apr. 7, 2017

In Israeli Eyes, Trump’s Tomahawks Correct the Course of History: Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017

Historians Run Amok: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Apr. 4, 2017





Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6, 2017


President Trump inherited the Syrian catastrophe from Barack Obama, and his initial instincts were to accept the awful status quo. But Bashar Assad’s latest chemical attack has galvanized his Administration to think anew, and Mr. Trump’s decision Thursday to launch a retaliatory missile strike is an important first step to save lives, enforce global order, and improve the strategic outlook for the U.S. and its allies.


Mr. Trump starts with the reality that Mr. Obama’s long abdication has left the U.S. with far less leverage than it had when the civil war began in 2011. Iran has become Mr. Assad’s protector on the ground via arms supplies and Hezbollah, and Russia has moved in as a military patron and patroller of the skies. The Muslim opposition the U.S. has been feebly trying to train and arm has been degraded while Mr. Assad and the Russians leave Islamic State to the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition.


As recently as last week Mr. Trump seemed willing to surrender to this circumstance and do nothing beyond defeating ISIS in Syria’s east. This was reflected in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments last week that Mr. Assad was here to stay and the future of Syria would be “decided by the Syrian people.” That’s John Kerry-speak for capitulation, and it may have led Mr. Assad to believe he could unleash more chemical hell.


Mr. Trump also seemed to be courting an accommodation with Russia in Syria, but that road leads to more strategic retreat. Vladimir Putin’s price for restraining Mr. Assad would be steep: U.S. recognition of his conquests in Ukraine and the end of sanctions. This would erode the U.S.-Europe alliance and make Mr. Putin look like a hero back home. Iran might not cooperate in any case, and its goal is an arc of Shiite power from Tehran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. The alternative to this surrender is to reassert U.S. influence with diplomacy and military force, and Mr. Assad’s chemical attack is the opening. Mr. Trump may understand this as he ordered an attack on the air base from which the chemical attack was launched, and Mr. Tillerson said Thursday that Mr. Assad has no future in Syria.


The quickest way to punish Mr. Assad for his aerial chemical attacks, and to ensure they won’t happen again, is to destroy his air power. This is the plan that Mr. Obama flinched at in 2013 when he let Mr. Assad cross his “red line.” He has now crossed that line again—this time after having promised to destroy his chemical stockpiles. On Thursday the U.S. struck only a single airfield, though Mr. Assad has six active airfields used in the war. The U.S. used cruise missiles from outside Syrian air space, which avoided engagement with Russian-manned air defenses. The Pentagon provided the firepower, though we wish Arabs and Europeans could have been included to show the international rejection of Mr. Assad’s war crimes.


Mr. Putin could escalate and engage U.S. forces. But Mr. Obama used that excuse to talk himself into doing nothing, and our guess is that Mr. Putin would shrink from fighting the U.S. lest he risk the humiliation of major losses. As for Russians on the ground, a U.S. source told the press they were forewarned about the attack to avoid casualties. A stronger attack would have destroyed Syria’s entire air force, and another good step would be for the U.S. and its allies to create the “safe zones” inside Syria that Mr. Trump promised during the campaign. This would be enforced by U.S. and allied air sorties plus renewed military supplies for the opposition. The humanitarian effort would show the U.S. purpose includes protecting the Syrian people. An international force could provide support for havens in multiple locations near the Turkish and Jordanian borders.


Every military operation carries risks but this one could also have major political and strategic benefits if Mr. Trump follows the air strike with some forceful diplomacy. The demonstration of renewed U.S. purpose in the region could have an electrifying impact across the Middle East. The Saudis, the Gulf Sunni states and Turkey would begin to rethink their accommodation to the Russia-Assad-Iran axis of dominance that none of them wants.


Mr. Trump also needs to make Russia and Iran begin to pay a price for their support for Mr. Assad’s depredations. They have had no incentive to negotiate an end to the civil war because they see themselves on the road to a relatively cost-free victory. That calculus may change if it looks like the costs of intervening are rising and Mr. Assad is no longer a sure winner. The Trump Administration has to think about the kind of long-term solution it would like in Syria—perhaps a partition into ethnic enclaves—but the chances of getting there are better if the opposition has safe zones and Mr. Assad can’t maraud with impunity.


The larger point for Mr. Trump to recognize is that he is being tested. The world—friend and foe—is watching to see how he responds to Mr. Assad’s war crime. His quick air strike on the evening he was having dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping makes clear that the Obama era is over. If he now follows with action to protect Syrian civilians and construct an anti-Assad coalition, he may find that new strategic possibilities open up to enhance U.S. interests and make the Middle East more stable.







Avi Issacharoff                                         

Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017


It would be wrong to get too carried away by the overnight US missile strike on the Syrian airbase, north of Damascus, from which it is believed the Assad regime launched Tuesday’s despicable chemical weapons attack. This was, after all, just a single retaliatory strike on an air base, and not a 180-degree change in US military policy. We don’t know what the Trump administration’s ongoing policy will be, should President Bashar Assad carry out further chemical weapons attacks, and we certainly have no sense that President Donald Trump will now be seeking to oust the Assad regime.


Nonetheless, the overnight US raid was dramatic and remarkable, especially when compared to the policy of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, which might best be summed up in the single word “inaction.” In less than three months, the much-mocked President Trump has achieved in the Middle East what Obama never sought, or even wanted to do: He has gained the trust of Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. Even the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is unstintingly in its praise of his Middle East policies and his efforts to revive the peace process with Israel.


The pragmatic Sunni camp, which felt itself so at odds with Obama, finally senses that it is being heard and heeded in Washington. The US administration is building relations with the correct side in this region, rather than gambling, as Obama did, on the political Islam characterized by the Muslim Brotherhood. But more than this, the US retaliatory attack sends the clear message to the Shi’ite camp — Iran and Hizballah — and to its Moscow patron, that the party is over. Only this week, Abdullah was warning about the Iranian effort to forge an area of control extending from Tehran to Beirut and Latakia.


Through a single, limited strike, Trump’s overnight resort to force signaled to the Shi’ite actors, and to Russia, that the rules of the game have now changed: From now on, there will be a price to be paid for invading, massacring, carrying out terror attacks, using non-conventional weapons. Such a message ought to have been delivered long ago, years ago. But Barack Obama opted not to do so. And as a consequence, the United States became perceived as weak, as afraid, as a nation that abandoned its allies in the Middle East. The overnight attack sent a very different message, especially to Assad’s opposition.

Moscow’s rapid, angry reaction, and the immediate messages of support from Saudi Arabia and from the Syrian opposition, underline how successful the single US strike has been in impacting all the necessary places. Not just the physical impact, either. Russia will now have to reassess its handling of the Syrian crisis. And as for Iran, Assad and Hezbollah, they will all have to weigh their next moves in what was once greater Syria with a great deal more care than before Trump hit back.                              



TRUMP’S CHOICE ON ASSAD                                                                      

Jonathan S. Tobin                                                                                                                                  

National Review, Apr. 6, 2017


As late as earlier this week, some in the White House were saying that for the U.S. to pursue the ouster of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad would be “silly.” But after President Donald Trump’s strong statement on Wednesday about Assad’s use of chemical weapons and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s denunciation of both the Syrian government and its Russian enabler, the notion of American action — both diplomatic and possibly even military — directed against Assad can’t be considered so silly. Indeed, as the Trump foreign-policy team assesses its goals in the Middle East, reversing course on Syria may be the only way the president has of fulfilling his promise to defeat ISIS.


Those who cheered Trump’s determination to avoid foreign entanglements — especially ones rooted in humanitarian concerns — may be hoping that the administration’s most recent statements about Syria won’t be translated into action. Given Trump’s history of deprecating the Bush administration and his criticism of President Obama for even thinking about enforcing his “red line” threat to Assad that Trump now correctly sees as making his predecessor responsible for the mess he inherited, it is entirely possible that Trump will ultimately do nothing. But it’s also possible that this administration, like so many of its predecessors, is working its way toward inescapable conclusions about policy that contradict campaign rhetoric. Much as Trump would have liked to leave Assad in place, events may have made that impossible.


When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ambassador Haley, and White House spokesman Sean Spicer were dismissing the idea of seeking Assad’s removal, they were merely acknowledging facts. Obama’s timidity combined with massive military intervention by Iran, Tehran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries, and, most importantly, Russia, meant the Damascus regime had largely won a civil war they were in danger of losing a few years ago. In 2013, when Obama stated that the use of chemical weapons by Assad meant crossing a “red line” the West would not ignore, the outcome of the war was still in doubt. While some rebel forces remain in the field, the dictator’s hold on power is no longer in question. The one truly potent threat is ISIS, which the Syrian government and its allies have largely left alone even as they have laid waste to any area where other dissidents have been located.


While Assad would like to reclaim all of his territory, ISIS, which still controls large stretches of both Syria and Iraq, has not been a priority. Assad and the Russians have been content to allow it to maintain its strength, since it has been a greater threat to the government of Iraq and its Western and Arab allies than to them. But his latest use of chemical weapons — which were supposed to have been collected by Russia, according to the face-saving agreement Obama concluded with Putin in order to justify his refusal to enforce his “red line” threat — has done more than generate international outrage.


The problem for Trump isn’t just that neither he nor the rest of his foreign-policy team are comfortable with maintaining silence about gas attacks on civilians or the fact that their Russian “friends” have no shame about providing diplomatic cover for Assad’s atrocities at the United Nations. It’s that they may be starting to realize that a tilt toward Russia may not be compatible with Trump’s promises of a successful war against the Islamic State.


The West rightly regards ISIS as a barbarous terror group that has inflicted countless atrocities on minority groups and political opponents in Syria and Iraq. But to Sunni Muslims in Syria, the Islamic State is the only force that is still effectively resisting the depredations of a Syrian government that many link to the Alawite minority. As much as both Obama and now Trump may have hoped that a war on ISIS could be prosecuted in cooperation with the Russian and Iranian forces helping Assad, the gas attack is a reminder that so long as Assad’s butchers are terrorizing and slaughtering civilians with impunity, ISIS will have the support of many Syrians.


This week’s reports of Assad’s depredations may be forcing the president to confront the basic contradictions at the heart of his approach to the region. Just as he must choose between a desire to get tough with an Iranian government that seeks regional hegemony and his desire to avoid confrontations with their Russian ally in Syria, so, too, must Trump come to grips with the fact that the military victory over ISIS he promised last year is incompatible with a policy of leaving Assad in place.

Rather than emulate Obama and sit back and let the Russians have their way in Syria, Trump must use all of the formidable resources at his disposal to get Moscow to rein in or abandon their client. As Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) suggested on Wednesday, that might involve the use of covert action or military force against Assad. The motivation for Trump pressuring the Russians in this manner isn’t so much a justified outrage at what has happened in Syria as a realization that acquiescence to the current state of affairs is antithetical to U.S. security goals about terror that Trump should regard as more important than his pro-Russian tilt.


It is ironic that a president whose political success was in no small measure advanced by his stand against interventionism is now being forced to deal with the costs of a policy of appeasement of Russia that he advocated. But the world looks very different from the Oval Office. This wouldn’t be the first administration that was transformed by events that weren’t foreseen or properly understood before it took office. Should Trump hesitate to press the Russians or simply let this moment pass without U.S. action of some kind, that may be what some in his base want. But Bashar al-Assad’s deplorable actions may have brought some much-needed clarity to Trump’s otherwise muddled foreign-policy vision that will compel him to change his tune.                       




CELEBRATING JERUSALEM AT 'HAKOTEL'                                                                                         

David M. Weinberg                                                                                                      

Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2017


Over the next three months, there will be many jubilee celebrations of Jerusalem’s unification. Everyone will be marking 50 years since the liberation of the Old City and the return of Jewish sovereignty to the Temple Mount and the Kotel (Western Wall). It is only appropriate that the first of these celebrations was held by Yeshivat Hakotel, which was the very first major institution to be established in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem immediately after the Six Day War. Close to 2,500 alumni of this magnificent educational institution (including me) gathered this week for a gala reunion and concert in Jerusalem.


All the heroism, humanism, determination and vision that characterizes the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-anchoring of Jewish identity in Jerusalem over the past half-century is encapsulated in the story of Yeshivat Hakotel. It was only two months after the June 1967 war. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem had been laid waste by the Arabs during the 19-year Jordanian occupation. It was in total ruins. Almost every building, including many famous synagogues, had been dynamited. Fox and sheep were the only residents of the rubble.


Into the debris, waded the visionary Rabbi Aryeh Bina and a coterie of yeshiva students, intent on bringing Torah study back to the Temple precinct. The pioneering group schlepped food, books and electrical generators into the derelict Batei Machse buildings and established a hesder yeshiva – combining yeshiva studies with IDF service. The first classes were held on Tisha Be’Av, the day of lamentation for the destruction of the First and Second Jewish Commonwealths. It was more than symbolic that on this day the Third Jewish Commonwealth’s Religious Zionist frontiersmen trail-blazed their way back into ancient Jerusalem.


Levi Eshkol and Yigal Alon were drawn to the yeshiva and helped it along, admiring its unique combination of grit, faith and revolutionary spirit. Great philanthropists like Kurt Rothschild of Canada and Maurice Wohl of England later helped build the yeshiva’s colossal building; the grandest structure in the Old City since the destruction of the Second Temple 2,000 years ago.


Over the past fifty years, under the deanship of Rabbi Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari, and in recent years under Rabbi Baruch Wieder, Yeshivat Hakotel has grown into a powerhouse place of scholarship and leadership training. Its alumni can be found in all walks of Israeli leadership, from the yeshiva world to academia, and from business to military.


Hakotel’s foreign student alumni are leaders of American Modern Orthodoxy too. Many have made aliyah, while others are key donors to the yeshiva today. Many prominent yeshivas, rabbinical courts and academic institutions are today led by Hakotel alumni. This includes well-known rabbis such as Avraham Wolfson (Maaleh Adumim), Aryeh Hendler (Ramle), Beni Kalmanzon (Otniel), David Henschke (Bar-Ilan U.), David Turgeman (Dimona), Dov Singer (Kfar Etzion), Haim Sabato (Mitpe Nevo), Rafi Peretz (former IDF chief rabbi), Tuvia Lifshitz (Hakotel), Yehuda Brandes (Herzog College), Yehuda Shachor (Rehovot), Yitzhak Levy (former NRP leader), and more.


Rabbi Hadari’s unique personality and spiritual worldview is what drew these people together, I believe. He was questing for “Cossacks with shtreimels,” as he once picturesquely described it. Rabbi Hadari meant that he was seeking to raise a generation of soldiers who were also scholars deeply entrenched in Jewish learning; specifically Torah flavored by Hassidic thought infused with Rabbi A.Y. Kook’s Zionist-transformational bent.


For me, a defining educational-sacred experience was the before-dawn Friday morning Midrash class taught by Rabbi Hadari in th

e early 1980s on the yeshiva rooftop overlooking the Temple Mount. It was here that I discovered how to understand the grand sweep of Jewish history as interpreted in traditional sources, and to appreciate the mystical teachings of Rav Zadok Hacohen of Lublin and their existentialist application to modern Israel. It was on that rooftop that I forged my own commitment to aliyah, and to the building of Jerusalem as Israel’s strategic, spiritual and cultural core. It was on that rooftop that I met the scholar-student activist-doctor who is my best friend from then till today.


To this, I add the Friday night ritual of dancing en masse to the Kotel for Shabbat eve prayers – for which Yeshivat Hakotel was famous. It was sight to see and an experience to savor: Hundreds of white-shirted boys in rows, with arms on each other’s shoulders, streaming down the long staircase from the Jewish Quarter; like an endless flock of pure sheep skipping along the Psalmist’s mountains. Tourist groups from around the world, and many IDF units, would time their visits to the Western Wall in order to join in the singing and dancing (and take pictures). They still do. It is uplifting to all…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Shabbat Shalom!




On Topic Links


Happy Passover Video: CIJR, Apr. 7, 2017

Transcript of President Trump’s Remarks about Airstrikes in Syria: David Israel, Jewish Press, Apr. 7, 2017—This is a transcript of President Donald Trump’s remarks on Thursday night in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida: “My fellow Americans, on Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians.

In Israeli Eyes, Trump’s Tomahawks Correct the Course of History: Raphael Ahren, Times of Israel, Apr. 7, 2017—From an Israeli perspective, US President Donald Trump corrected the course of history in ordering airstrikes against the Syrian regime late Thursday.

Historians Run Amok: Daniel Pipes, National Review, Apr. 4, 2017—The eminent historian Niall Ferguson has devastatingly skewered his (and my) field of study in a talk for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, subsequently published as "The Decline and Fall of History."























The Missile, the Poison Gas and the Sheer Effrontery: Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017 — A very short length of rope connects the launching of an anti-aircraft missile towards IAF jets on the night of March 17th and the murderous use (once again!) of the poison gas which the Syrian regime is not supposed to have by the "Butcher of Damascus." 

Following Gas Attack, Israel Reassesses Syrian Threat: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, Apr. 5, 2017 — The horrifying images of the gas attack in Idlib on April 4 shocked many in Israel and led to a wide range of responses in the country, including a call for an emergency Cabinet session by Minister Naftali Bennett.

The New York Times Takes Trump’s Bait on Syria: Noah Rothman, Commentary, Apr. 5, 2017— If President Donald Trump wanted to confuse his opponents and dilute any serious criticisms of his approach to the situation in Syria, he could have done no better than to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the crisis.

The Deal Trump Shouldn’t Make With Russia: Mark Helprin, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29, 2017 — The new administration may be sorely tempted to close a showy diplomatic “deal,” the origins of which are President Obama’s extraordinary policy failures in the Middle East.


On Topic Links


Trump: Syria is Now My Responsibility: Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017

America Must Send a Strong Message to Syria that Using Chemical Weapons in War is Not Acceptable: Dennis Ross, New York Daily News, Apr. 4, 2017

Syria’s Children Die Choking. The West Tut-Tuts, Briefly, and Moves On. This is Now Normal: Terry Glavin, National Post, Apr. 5, 2017

Iran Sponsored Shi'a Militia Launches Terror Group to Fight Israel: IPT, Apr. 5, 2017



THE MISSILE, THE POISON GAS AND THE SHEER EFFRONTERY                                                

Mordechai Kedar                                                                                                

Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017


A very short length of rope connects the launching of an anti-aircraft missile towards IAF jets on the night of March 17th and the murderous use (once again!) of the poison gas which the Syrian regime is not supposed to have by the "Butcher of Damascus."  The rope has the words "made in Russia," on it, and the poison gas is just a continuation of the brutal behavior of the Russian armed forces who have been helping Assad. And since Russia has veto power in the Security Council, the world, even if it so wishes, is unable to force Putin to give an accounting of his army's actions in Syria and it certainly does not have the power to act against Russia in non-military fashion – by boycotting it, for example.


Although this latest atrocity took place during President Trump's term of office, the responsibility for its occurrence rests squarely on the former president's shoulders. Obama ignored the previous chemical weapons attacks, over 20 of them, and allowed Assad to get off the hook via an "agreement" according to which he was to dismantle his chemical weapons stores. There was no provision in the agreement for making sure Assad gave up his entire arsenal of CBW (chemical and biological weapons) nor did it have any means of preventing the renewed manufacture of chemical weapons once Assad dismantled a portion of them. All these mistakes were made during Obama's terms of office, and since then, Syrian citizens have been suffering from their reverberating outcomes.


With Russia's back, Assad feels free to do whatever he wishes, anything at all, legal or illegal, letting the end justify the means, including chemical means. He needs to remain the ruler in order to keep his head attached to his neck, even if he is left with only a small part of the country, from the coast eastward to the Idlib Mountains, where his defenders say he will establish an Allawite state on the ruins of Syria. Assad strides unhesitantly on  the skeletons of the people he has killed, on a road built by the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias who came to eliminate the Sunni majority in Syria and replace it with Shiites, some local and some imported from Iran and Afghanistan. An ethnic purge of the Sunni majority is going on in Syria, and it involves using whatever means are at Assad's disposal. Exile, mass murders, all achieved using conventional weapons – or gas, the poison gas he doesn't have anymore after "destroying" the arsenal, leaving a significant amount intact and possibly the ability to manufacture more.


Assad is flexing his muscles, waiting to see whether the new US president has any red lines – and if so, what he might do if Assad crosses them. He is checking just how far he can go, how much patience Trump has, whether he has to be taken seriously, and just how seriously. If Trump does nothing, Assad will conclude that Trump is an Obama clone with regard to Syria and not worth taking to heart. Trump is facing his first test right now, with North Korea's nuclear threats vis a vis South Korea in the background, closely followed by Japan and the US, Russian plans for Ukraine and China's aspirations for control of parts of the China Sea. In my humble opinion, the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun that left over a hundred dead and several hundreds injured, many of them children, is – unfortunately – the chance that the god of history has given the new American president. If I were one of Trump's advisors, I would tell him to call a press conference in the White House and read the following letter, live, to the entire world:


"To the Butcher of Damascus, Mr. Bashar Assad, "For the past six years you have been massacring your citizens, people whose only sin is their wish to live in a state that cares about them, and not in a state which sees itself as their enemy. You, who have turned Syria into a slaughterhouse for its people, have lost all legitimacy, if you ever had any, because you have failed in the primary and central mission of any president: ensuring that his citizens can live their lives. That concept has vanished without a trace, leaving no justification for the continuation of your regime. In the name of Syria's citizens, in the name of all mankind, you are hereby removed from your position forthwith. You have 48 hours to get out of Syria, and as Commander in Chief of the US armed forces I have already given the order to be ready for an operation that will leave you a dead man. If you are still on Syrian soil at the end of that time period, I will give the order to act. Don't call me to get a time extension because you won't get one, you simply don't deserve it."


A credible threat of his nature will get the entire world to its feet with one question: "What is going to happen if Assad does not give in to the threat and ignores Trump's ultimatum? Putin will have to either enter into a confrontation with the United States or convince Assad to "take a short leave" in Moscow until Trump calms down. The North Koreans will wait impatiently to see the results of Russia's threats, because they are next in line after Assad to be threatened similarly by Trump about their military nuclear plans. Iran will also be on alert during those fateful 48 hours after Trump's speech because Iran's rulers know exactly what Trump thinks of them and of the nuclear agreement Obama had them sign in 2015.


An ultimatum of this nature could give the United States deterrent power once again after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama, the human rights knight in shining armor, intentionally and purposefully made it disappear. If Assad gives in to the ultimatum, Trump will come out a real winner. If Assad refuses to leave and an American operation eliminates him – Trump will be an even greater winner. I do not expect Putin to battle Trump to keep Assad in power, because Russian interests are not dependent on Assad the man but on the Alawite ethnic group and the ports Russia has taken over in Syria. Russia is also interested in what becomes of the natural gas on the bottom of the sea facing Syria's coast. Syria's gas resources are much larger than those of Israel.


The Syrian catastrophe has to teach Israel one important lesson: No one will stand by Israel's side if the country suffers a CBW attack. Assad certainly won't care about Israel's citizens any more than he cares for his own. Israel must face Assad, his friends and supporters from the, north and east. And present them with a credible threat, backed by clear American support saying that any harm to any Israeli citizen by Syria will lead him straight to hell. Although Israel does not have to take part in the Syrian chaos, it must make its point crystal clear, and stand guard carefully, with not only a finger, but a whole hand, on Syria's pulse.





Ben Caspit

                                                Al-Monitor, Apr. 5, 2017


The horrifying images of the gas attack in Idlib on April 4 shocked many in Israel and led to a wide range of responses in the country, including a call for an emergency Cabinet session by Minister Naftali Bennett. The Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) Intelligence Division and the Mossad seem to have suffered the greatest shock, however, since they are responsible for assessing the chemical weapons capabilities of the Syrian regime. The fact that the regime is suspected of using sarin nerve gas against the population casts their current assessments into doubt and challenges Israel's working assumption about when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might use any chemical weapons still in his possession. Just two weeks ago, two senior intelligence sources told Al-Monitor that Assad has very limited chemical weapons capacities, mainly chlorine gas. These weapons were described as "neutralizing," i.e., they can kill their targets but not on a wide scale. Photos from Idlib contradict this statement.


Before Syria reached a chemical weapons disarmament agreement with the world powers in September 2013, the IDF assessed that Assad would only use his chemical weapons against Israel if his regime found itself "with its back against the wall." The disarmament agreement, which was only signed after US President Barack Obama deliberated over whether he should embark on military action against Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, was received with optimism in Israel.


Both the IDF's Intelligence Division and the Mossad concluded that the agreement had been fulfilled in its entirety, and that Assad did, in fact, forgo this strategic asset. According to intelligence sources, Assad was concerned that an American cruise missile and aerial assault would lead to the final collapse of his regime. In other words, he did have "his back against the wall," and decided to give up his chemical weapons arsenal to survive. Israel believed that the Syrian regime kept only "residual" chemical capabilities, i.e., something symbolic, or an "emergency supply" of chemical weapons, to be used only if Assad is forced to flee for his life. The same Israeli assessment also claimed that some 98% of Assad's arsenal of sarin or VX nerve gas (about 1,300 tons) no longer existed. If it was, in fact, Assad, who used nerve gas in Idlib on April 4 (no one else is capable of launching such an attack), these assessments by Israeli and other sources have been invalidated.


This has long-term implications. After reaching an agreement that Syria would rid itself of its chemical weapons stockpiles, it seemed obvious to Jerusalem that Israel was out of danger when it came to the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against its population. This assessment of the situation led Israel to abandon existing procedures to defend civilians from chemical weapons. Until then, every Israeli citizen received a chemical weapons defense kit from the government, which included a gas mask and other equipment. It was a convoluted and expensive setup, which was difficult to maintain (every newborn needs new equipment, mask filters must be replaced, etc.), but it remained in force as long as Israel felt threatened. And so, ever since 2013, this defense procedure was abandoned, and the manufacture of gas masks in Israel came to a halt. The April 4 incident in Idlib raises questions about that decision.


A senior Israeli source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Assad is well-aware that if he dares use chemical weapons against Israel in his current state, he will be wiped off the map by morning." Yet even this statement sounds problematic now. Assad is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it looks like the April 4 massacre in Idlib will pass without Assad suffering as much as a scratch. The Syrians deny that they used gas, the Russians claim that the Syrian regime bombed a rebel gas factory and the Americans blame Trump. That's it.


The shock in Israel on April 4 was resounding. As a people, Jews are especially sensitive to the use of gas, even if it happens beyond their borders in a hostile nation. Images of children suffocating from nerve gas sent shockwaves through the media and led to responses by everyone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Former head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Yadlin even called for Israeli military intervention. Yadlin, who heads the Institute for National Security Studies and maintains close ties with the military establishment, later explained that he meant an aerial response, not necessarily overt, which would target Syria's chemical weapons division and even attack the aircraft allegedly responsible for the gas assault.


Within a day, the mood started to calm down. One senior Israeli military source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Ultimately the basic situation hasn't changed. So it is possible that Assad does have a small supply of nerve gas, amounting to a few dozen or perhaps a few hundred kilograms. And it is possible that his recovering self-confidence allowed him to use the weapons locally, in Idlib. That still doesn't change the basic situation in the region." Not everyone agrees with this assessment. It is safe to assume that quite a few meetings about the situation took place in Israel's various intelligence agencies and divisions the night of April 4. If Assad really is capable of using nerve gas during a local incident in Idlib, it indicates that this is a different, new and more dangerous Assad, as one senior Israeli source told Al-Monitor.


And there is another issue. Who can now assure Israel that Assad has not managed to transfer some of that residual nerve gas to Hezbollah? A transfer of chemical weapons can be very low key, without any long convoys or heavy trucks. Hezbollah could then use Iranian technology to install the gas on its missiles. The result would be a very different Hezbollah than what Israel has been used to until now. These horrific scenarios still sound unfounded, but in the Middle East, unfounded scenarios sometimes turn into reality. At this stage, there can be almost no doubt that Israel will need to reassess its intelligence and working assumptions and reconsider what steps to take in response to the WMD held by Assad, and especially by Israel's most imposing enemy today: Hezbollah.                               





Noah Rothman                                                                                                     

Commentary, Apr. 5, 2017


If President Donald Trump wanted to confuse his opponents and dilute any serious criticisms of his approach to the situation in Syria, he could have done no better than to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the crisis. In a statement condemning the slaughter of civilians in what appears to be the worst regime-ordered chemical attack since 2013, the president observed that Obama had drawn a “red line” over this same sort of thing but “did nothing.” Instantly, partisan battle lines were etched into the sand. The New York Times editorial board was one of many liberal outlets that felt compelled to defend Barack Obama’s Syria policy. In the process, they water down their criticisms of Trump’s approach to the nightmare in the Levant. That serves Donald Trump’s interests just fine.


The occasion of an attack using weapons of mass destruction in Syria that killed at least 70—including ten children—and injured over 400 is an inopportune moment for a president to pass the buck to his predecessor. Trump’s statement represented a crass attempt at obfuscation, and an abdication of an American president’s responsibility to eschew prevarications. As a political tactic, however, Trump’s maneuver succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings. President Barack Obama does deserve blame for the crisis in Syria. His administration has earned censure for compounding the disaster in a craven effort to avoid intervention into that conflict at almost all costs. Of course, Donald Trump is similarly committed to avoiding engagement in the Syrian civil war. By triggering the protective instincts of Obama’s loyal progeny, Trump has deflected criticism from his disengagement and forced the left to defend Obama’s.


The New York Times editorial board was in bountiful company when they jumped at the president’s bait. They were right to note that the world risks becoming inured to the images of children frothing at the mouth, writhing in agony as the struggle to breathe through chemically-scarred lungs. This attack was, however, of an order of magnitude greater than previous attacks. The Times editorial board observed that this makes no tactical sense, considering that the Assad regime has all but won the Civil War. They and their Russian and Iranian allies have, by and large, neutralized pro-Western rebels and secured the concession that the Trump administration no longer believes Assad’s ouster is a prerequisite for peace. The Times was on secure ground when it called the timing of this attack, coming less than a week after Assad’s survival was virtually assured by Washington, conspicuous.


The piece could have stopped there. The Times also might have gone on to note that Trump’s passing of the buck back fails to meet the measure of an American president. If they were feeling especially saucy, the opinion-page editors might have observed that Trump actually advised Barack Obama to do precisely what he is today criticizing: ignore the “red line” for action against the Assad regime. But they didn’t. Instead, the New York Times’ editorial board felt obliged to defend Obama’s record in Syria, muddying their argument and rendering it dismissible in the process.


The Times noted that Trump’s explicit assertion that Assad’s ouster is no longer an American priority is only the verbalization of an implicit Obama-era policy. The editorial further observed, oddly, that Obama shifted toward that view “only after repeated efforts to work with Russia on a political solution.” Indeed, it is not despite but because of those efforts that Assad is today so entrenched. “Mr. Trump ignored the fact that instead of taking military action, which Congress mostly opposed, Mr. Obama worked on with Russia on a deal under which Mr. Assad agreed to dismantle his chemical munitions.” Remember, this is Barack Obama’s defense. Barack Obama’s primetime address to the nation on the night of September 10, 2013, may be remembered as the most pivotal moment of his presidency. It was the night in which he made a prosecutorial, compelling case for military action against Assad, then announced that he had no intention of doing anything about it. Obama instead declared that both Congress and Russia would rescue him from having to deliver on his threats…

[To Read the Following Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





 Mark Helprin

Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29, 2017


The new administration may be sorely tempted to close a showy diplomatic “deal,” the origins of which are President Obama’s extraordinary policy failures in the Middle East. With American financing rather than resistance, Iran has thrown a military bridge from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, a feat the U.S. could not equal at the height of its powers when it unsuccessfully tried to construct the Central Treaty Organization in the 1950s. Worse still, Mr. Obama’s “executive agreement” with Tehran gives it a U.S.-guaranteed path to nuclear weapons. As Mr. Obama denuded the Mediterranean of armed American naval vessels and backed off supposed red lines, Russia re-established itself in the Middle East after having been almost completely excluded during the previous nine presidential terms. The result of such astounding American incompetence has been genocidal wars and the metaphorical transformation of the regional security situation from gunpowder into nitroglycerin.


It threatens to become even worse, in that with the presence of rival great powers, the processes at work may leap the bounds of their containment in the Middle East and unravel the long peace of Europe. Because of the March 7 meeting of the American, Russian, and Turkish military chiefs, and simultaneous Russian signals that it is ready, for a price, to abandon its support of Iran, Iran—as documented by the Middle East Media Research Institute—is in a state of “shock.” It knows that it cannot stand against the might and favorable geographic position of a combination of these forces and the proximate Sunni states. President Hassan Rouhani recently rushed to Moscow, but his meetings there were conspicuously opaque about the future of Iran in Syria.


Excluding Iranian troops and arms from Syria and Lebanon would be a major achievement, which could have been a feature of the Obama foreign policy before Russia reinforced in Syria. American, Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian air power might easily have laid an air blockade across the 1,000 miles from Tehran to Damascus, and kept the few roads in wide-open country clear of overland supply. Needless to say, Iran would have found the sea route unavailing. Even now, with a Russian air component in western Syria, it is unlikely that Moscow would risk breaking a blockade any more than it attempted to breach the 1962 quarantine of Cuba, for the reason that it could not then and cannot now project power into the area of contention with even a small fraction of the force that would resist it. As the Soviets did in the Cuban crisis, Russia might resort to nuclear bluffing, but it would be only that. Its interests in the Levant, which, given its lack of power projection and capable allies, it cannot exploit, would not be worth an empty threat that it would then have to withdraw.


Nonetheless, nuclear brinkmanship is hardly to be considered lightly. So, given that the U.S. failed to capitalize on its open opportunities before Russia came on the scene, should it not now take the opportunity to begin putting Iran back into its cage by striking a deal with Russia? No, because this is not the only way to do so, and the price, if indeed Russia would fully cooperate, would be to bless the developing Russian alliance with a mischievous and eminently separable-from-NATO Turkey, and, much more consequently, the lifting of sanctions related to Crimea and Ukraine. That Russia is shy of the madness of Iran and foresees such a trade as (from a column in Kommersant) opening a “window of opportunity for Donald Trump’s diplomacy,” has been suggested by various Kremlin ventriloquist dummies. According to a U.S. intelligence report, the ever injudicious Vladimir Zhirinovsky proclaimed on the eve of the U.S. election that if Mr. Trump won, “Russia would ‘drink Champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions in Syria and Ukraine.”…

[To Read the Following Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Trump: Syria is Now My Responsibility: Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017—US President Donald Trump condemned on Wednesday the chemical weapons attack in the Idlib province of Syria on Tuesday. As he welcomed the King of Jordan Abdullah II to the White House, Trump called the attack a “horrible thing, unspeakable,” and “a terrible affront to humanity.”

America Must Send a Strong Message to Syria that Using Chemical Weapons in War is Not Acceptable: Dennis Ross, New York Daily News, Apr. 4, 2017—Bashar Assad has struck again. The Syrian regime has carried out an air attack using Sarin gas in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Early reporting from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggests as many as 100 are dead, many of them children. As if it was not enough to drop chemical weapons on the town, the regime then targeted, with an airstrike, the clinic where the victims of the chemical assault were being treated.

Syria’s Children Die Choking. The West Tut-Tuts, Briefly, and Moves On. This is Now Normal: Terry Glavin, National Post, Apr. 5, 2017 —Within 24 hours of a Tuesday morning chemical weapons attack that left the corpses of several dozen innocents strewn in the streets of Khan Sheikhoun, a bomb-cratered town in the Syrian province of Idlib, everything was back to normal again. The single most horrific poison gas atrocity since the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was allowed to get away with murdering more than 1,000 civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in August 2013, and it took less than a day to show that nothing of consequence has changed.

Iran Sponsored Shi'a Militia Launches Terror Group to Fight Israel: IPT, Apr. 5, 2017—An Iranian supported Shi'a militia, Al-Nujaba, says it formed the "Golan Liberation Army" to fight Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports. "This army has been trained and has detailed plans. If the Syria regime asks us to, we are ready to act to liberate the Golan [from Israel] along with our allies," Al-Nujaba spokesman Hashem Al-Mousawi said in a March 8 interview with Iran's Tasnim news agency.





















Should Israel Maintain Its Policy of Non-Intervention in Syria?: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, Jan. 26, 2017— Groupthink in Israel should have been laid to rest after the Agranat Commission’s investigation into the massive intelligence failure preceding the Yom Kippur War.

Putin's Syria: Success Through Strength: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, Jan. 25, 2017— The peace talks that began last week in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the sides fighting in Syria have yet to produce a breakthrough that would end the bloody war being fought by our neighbors for almost six years now — and it is doubtful they ever will.

Palestinians of Syria: A Year of Killings and Torture: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 23, 2017— 2016 was a tough year for the Palestinians.

Obama’s View of Syria Threat Level Shaped Legacy of Caution: Carol E. Lee, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2017— President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with a promise not to engage the U.S. in protracted and messy conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan.


On Topic Links


Sanctioning the Syrians: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 23, 2017

Syria: The Bottom Line of Political Accommodation: Frederic C. Hof, Defense News, Jan. 19, 2017

New Challenges From Israel’s East and North: Eric R. Mandel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2017

Why Did Russia Offer Autonomy for Syria’s Kurds?: Al-Monitor, Jan. 29, 2017 




Prof. Hillel Frisch

BESA, Jan. 26, 2017


Groupthink in Israel should have been laid to rest after the Agranat Commission’s investigation into the massive intelligence failure preceding the Yom Kippur War. The Commission not only censured Israel’s elite for its failure to discern the coming Egyptian and Syrian attack, due to a set of uncontested assumptions that proved totally false, but advocated the establishment of a variety of independent institutional sources of information to assure that such an event would not occur again.


That has proved easier said than done. Groupthink again seems to prevail over Israel’s position on Syria. All praise Israel’s current policy, which limits Israel’s involvement in the Syrian civil war to clearly defined red lines: to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah that threaten the balance of power, and to prevent the establishment of a Hezbollah/Iranian Revolutionary Guard military presence in southern Syria bordering the Israeli Golan Heights. Israel has acted forcefully to maintain both of these red lines.


But the balance of power between Syria and its ally Iran against their opponents has changed significantly since the Russian intervention in September 2015. The defeat of the rebels in Aleppo restored complete regime control over that city, the country’s largest and arguably richest city before the civil war. The regime has also made gains in the southern outskirts of Damascus. The Iranian-Hezbollah alliance in Lebanon has succeeded in placing its candidate in the presidential palace. Above all, ethnic cleansing is taking place in southern Syria bordering Israel’s Golan Heights, and in areas east of Damascus bordering Lebanon (where the Syrians and Hezbollah are driving out Sunnis and replacing them with Shiites from Iraq and Lebanon[i]). These are sufficient developments to seriously question the sagacity of Israel’s “hands-off” approach to Syria.


Syria, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, is creating the physical underpinnings of an imperial, Iran-dominated, Shiite-Alawite crescent extending from Tehran to Beirut to Syria’s south. This is to the detriment of Israel’s long-term strategic interests, as well as to the interests of moderate Sunni states such as Jordan. Recall that these gains supplement Iran’s success in securing the nuclear deal. It is also worthy of note that Saad al-Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s largest, mostly Sunni party and the fiercest opponent of Hezbollah and its allies in the political arena (an international court ruled that this alliance assassinated Saad’s father, Rafik, the prime minister of Lebanon, in 2004), felt compelled to support the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah-backed candidate. This demonstrates how Hariri, Israel’s silent partner, perceives the changing balance of power. He did it only out of fear.


Just as Hariri perceives the threat, so should Israel. Yet Israel’s security establishment, major politicians, journalists, and commentators are failing to take note of the strategic threat these developments collectively pose to Israel and the need to debate the existing strategy. The threat has far-reaching geo-strategic implications that transcend by far the “technical” perception of the Syrian civil war that pervades the Israeli establishment’s groupthink.


The question is, what should Israel’s strategy be towards Syria? The most important issue is to initiate a serious debate over Israeli objectives, which of course will have to take into consideration relations with Russia, a possible understanding between Presidents Trump and Putin over Syria, and even Turkish interests in the country. Still, the following objectives might be included:


Israel could publicly declare that the political future of Syria impinges on Israel’s security and therefore justifies a more proactive posture to assure an outcome favorable to Israeli interests. The major Israeli interest is to see a democratic regime in Syria. This means the removal of Assad and his supporters, who cannot possibly allow democracy to emerge in Syria. Announcing this objective must naturally take into account its possible repercussions in terms of Israeli-Russian relations. Israel could declare the position that if a democratic regime proves impossible, the Sunnis, after fifty years of oppression, deserve a state of their own in most of Syria. Israel should publicly state that it will cooperate with the Syrian opposition and the moderate Sunni Arab states to achieve either the second or third objective and will support the moderate rebel groups to thwart Assad’s ethnic cleansing.


It is important to note that Hariri acted as he did in part because the Sunnis in Syria and supporters of democracy from other sects, including the Alawites, are not getting nearly the backing the Assad regime is getting from its allies. Israel, a much more powerful state than it was in the past, should play a role in redressing this imbalance.


Israel cannot possibly be a king-maker after the US failure in Iraq or its own failure in Lebanon in 1982 to create a Maronite-dominated Lebanon. But that does not mean the Jewish State cannot work with Syrian forces towards creating a geo-strategic scenario in its favor in Syria. Just as doing too much can be costly, so can passivity prove dangerous. It is not in Israel’s interest to allow its major enemies to carve out the Syria they want. At the very least, a debate should take place over Israel’s present policies on Syria.




PUTIN'S SYRIA: SUCCESS THROUGH STRENGTH                                                                        

Prof. Eyal Zisser

Israel Hayom, Jan. 25, 2017


The peace talks that began last week in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the sides fighting in Syria have yet to produce a breakthrough that would end the bloody war being fought by our neighbors for almost six years now — and it is doubtful they ever will. Despite this, the talks are an important step in the right direction, and were inconceivable a few months ago. They are a meaningful diplomatic accomplishment, thanks entirely to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the most powerful man in the Middle East today.


Putin's accomplishments demonstrate just how hollow and void of meaning the slogans and cliches are that have been repeated by many in Israel and around the world on the need to find a "fair mediator," one that will act to achieve a "just peace" as a condition necessary to achieving regional peace between Israel and its neighbors, first and foremost between Israel and the Palestinians. After all, the peace Putin is pushing in Syria is not a "just peace," but rather a peace of the powerful, completely based on force and interests. Apart from that, Putin is far from being a "fair mediator." He is a mediator with interests who took a clear stance on one side of the conflict, President Bashar Assad's side, and even joined the fight with him.


Regardless, Putin succeeded where the hypocritical international community failed. They preached, but did nothing for the civilian population or to advance the values of justice and morality. Indeed, the war in Syria would have continued in full force if things were up to Washington alone, to New York (where the U.N. General Assembly meets), or to Brussels (where the EU sits).


What is surprising is how over the past year Putin hit the Syrian rebel faction with all his might, killing thousands of their people and supporters. He flattened villages and towns mercilessly and sowed destruction and ruin that caused tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, of civilians to flee, whether they supported the rebels or were just caught in areas of conflict. And now the rebels are crawling on their bellies to kiss Putin's striking hand, or perhaps the soles of his shoes.


What is even more surprising is that the military presence Washington maintains across the Middle East — soldiers, planes and warships — is 10 times as big as the Russian military presence in Syria. The Russians only had to send several dozen planes and a small fleet of ships, and America's standing in the Middle East reached an unprecedented slump. Everyone ignores them, as U.S. President Donald Trump saw fit to bring to light. Putin, on the other hand, is respected and held in awe in the Middle East.


By the way, the other side of the coin is that Putin, unwavering in his method and interests, does not ascribe much importance to Assad, even though Putin sent Russian planes and soldiers to Syria to protect him. Assad was not even invited to talks in Moscow last month, where Russia agreed along with Turkey and Iran on a road map to end the fighting in Syria. Even in his partnerships with Iran and Turkey, Putin acts on the principle of divide and conquer, taking advantage of the animosity and competition between the two for his own interests and to raise the standing of Russia.


The lessons of Putin's successes — the military and of late also the diplomatic — are worthy of being learned and incorporated also in Israel. The key to success in our region is not eloquence, sweet talking, flattery or trying to appease the listener, but standing up for our interests resolutely and showing strength. Whoever wishes to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and maybe even achieve a breakthrough, should pay attention to these things. If U.S. President Donald Trump wants to push for a treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, he would do well to ignore those who call on him to distance himself from Israel and renege on his campaign promise of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. This is not the way to win the hearts of the Arabs, and not the way to promote peace and stability in our region.






Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, Jan. 23, 2017


2016 was a tough year for the Palestinians. It was tough not only for those Palestinians living in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority (PA) regime, or the Gaza Strip under Hamas. When Westerners hear about the "plight" and "suffering" of Palestinians, they instantly assume that the talk is about those living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Rarely does the international community hear about what is happening to Palestinians in the Arab countries. This lapse doubtless exists because the misery of Palestinians in the Arab countries is difficult to pin on Israel.


The international community and mainstream journalists only know of those Palestinians living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Of course, life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is no box of dates, although this inconvenient fact might be rather unpleasant to the ears of Western journalists and human rights organizations. In any event, mainstream media outlets seem to prefer turning a blind eye to the plight of Palestinians living in Arab countries. This evasion harms first and foremost the Palestinians themselves and allows Arab governments to continue their policies of persecution and repression.


The past few years have seen horror stories about the conditions of Palestinians in Syria. Where is the media attention for the Palestinians in this war-stricken country? Palestinians in Syria are being murdered, tortured, imprisoned and displaced. The West yawns.


Foreign journalists covering the Middle East swarm by the hundreds throughout Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Yet they act as if Palestinians can only be found in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These journalists have no desire to go to Syria or other Arab countries to report about the mistreatment and trespasses perpetrated by Arabs against their Palestinian brothers. For these journalists, Arabs killing and torturing other Arabs is not news. But when Israeli policemen shoot and kill a Palestinian terrorist who rams his truck into a group of soldiers and kills and wounds them, Western reporters rush to visit his family's home to interview them and provide them with a platform to express their thoughts.


Palestinians living in Syria, however, are less fortunate. No one is asking how they feel about the devastation of their families, communities and lives. Especially not the hundreds of Middle East correspondents working in the region. "The year 2016 was full of all forms of killings, torture and displacement of Palestinians in Syria," according to recent reports published in a number of Arab media outlets. "The last year was hell for these Palestinians and its harsh consequences will not be erased for many years to come. During 2016, Palestinians in Syria were subjected to the cruelest forms of torture and deprivation at the hands armed gangs and the ruling Syrian regime. It is hard to find one Palestinian family in Syria that has not been affected."


According to the reports, Syrian authorities are withholding the bodies of more than 456 Palestinians who died under torture in prison. No one knows exactly where the bodies are being held or why the Syrian authorities are refusing to hand them over to the relatives. Even more disturbing are reports suggesting that Syrian authorities have been harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians. Testimonies collected by some Palestinians point to a Syrian government-linked gang that has been trading in the organs of the victims, who include women and children. Another 1,100 Palestinians have been languishing in Syrian prisons since the beginning of the war, more than five years ago. The Syrian authorities do not provide any statistics about the number of prisoners and detainees; nor do they allow human rights groups or the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and detention centers.


The most recent report about the plight of Palestinians in Syria states that 3,420 Palestinians (455 of them females) have been killed since the beginning of the war. The report, published by the Action Group For Palestinians of Syria, also reveals that nearly 80,000 Palestinians have fled to Europe, while 31,000 fled to Lebanon, 17,000 to Jordan, 6,000 to Egypt, 8,000 to Turkey and 1,000 to the Gaza Strip. The report also mentions that 190 Palestinians died as a result of malnutrition and lack of medical care because their refugee camps and villages are under siege by the Syrian army and armed groups.


Alarmed by the indifference of the international community to their plight, Palestinians in Syria have resorted to social media to be heard in the hope that decision-makers in the West or the UN Security Council, obsessed as they are with Israeli settlements, might pay attention to their suffering. The latest campaign on social media, entitled, "Where are the detainees?" refers to the unknown fate of those Palestinians who have gone missing after being taken into custody by Syrian authorities. The organizers of the campaign revealed that in the past few years, 54 Palestinian minors have died under torture in Syrian prisons. The organizers noted that hundreds of prisoners and detainees, after they were apprehended by the Syrian authorities, remain unaccounted for…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]






Carol E. Lee

Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2017


President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with a promise not to engage the U.S. in protracted and messy conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. As he leaves, his adherence to that promise is muddying his foreign-policy legacy because of how he handled another Mideast crisis: Syria. For almost six of Mr. Obama’s eight years in the White House, the conflict in Syria has repeatedly evolved—and the president’s cautious decision-making has appeared one step behind.


Mr. Obama has emphasized the use of diplomacy first, coalition building and assisting local forces on the ground rather than deploying large numbers of U.S. troops. He aimed to avoid putting American troops in harm’s way in potentially open-ended conflicts when he didn’t see a direct threat to U.S. national security. That was his early assessment of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, and he has maintained it through his last day in office on Friday.


That view—that the conflict wasn’t a direct threat to U.S. national-security interests—led the Obama administration to a series of delays or rejections of policy prescriptions and led the president to repeatedly conclude that military intervention would put America on a trajectory toward another full-scale war in the Middle East. That view was also the impetus for Mr. Obama’s rejection of a recommendation early in the war from top national security advisers to train and arm rebels fighting the Assad regime. It dissuaded him from creating a no-fly zone in Syria as some of his advisers and U.S. allies repeatedly urged him to do. And it helped inform his decisions to seek congressional approval for military strikes in Syria after Mr. Assad crossed the U.S. president’s self-imposed “red line” by using chemical weapons, and—before Congress voted—to pull back from using force and agree to a Russian plan to remove most of the Syrian regime’s stockpile.


As Mr. Obama hands over a metastasized crisis to his successor, the question looms of whether Syria could have turned out differently. “There are a lot of people that bear responsibility for what happened, and I think the United States included,” said Leon Panetta, who served as Mr. Obama’s defense secretary and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and was one of the advisers pressing the president to arm the rebels early in the conflict. He pointed to whether Mr. Obama should have authorized a no-fly zone, aided opposition forces earlier in the conflict and enforced his red line with force in 2013. “That’s the lesson of these last three years: that ultimately the consequences of not taking action are going to represent a threat to our national security,” Mr. Panetta said.


Mr. Obama acknowledges that his Syria policy hasn’t been effective in resolving the conflict. But he also argues it has kept the U.S. out of another protracted conflict in the Middle East that would put tens of thousands of U.S. troops at risk and cost potentially billions more dollars. “Whenever we went through it, the challenge was that…it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap,” the president said at a news conference last month. As Mr. Obama adhered to his approach, Syria evolved from an internal civil war in 2011 to a breeding ground for the Islamic State terrorist group, the source of the largest migrant crisis since World War II and a shift in regional power structures with the increased military role of Russia.


As pressure from Republicans in Congress, U.S. allies in the Middle East and the Washington foreign-policy establishment mounted on Mr. Obama to take stronger military action, aides say the president would sum up his doctrine during meetings in four words: “Don’t do stupid shit.” Some see in his approach a steadfastness to support a principle. “It says a lot about his view that he never buckled to the pressure just to ‘do something,’ ” said Philip Gordon, who served as the president’s adviser on Middle East and North Africa in his second term. “That took a real amount of discipline on his part.”…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




On Topic Links


Sanctioning the Syrians: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 23, 2017—On January 12, eight days before the end of the Obama administration, a last-minute, “too late too little” move was taken in the form of sanctions against 18 Syrian individuals and one organization involved in the military use of chlorine against Syrian civilians in 2014-15. (Notably, more chlorine attacks were carried out by the Bashar Assad regime in 2016.)

Syria: The Bottom Line of Political Accommodation: Frederic C. Hof, Defense News, Jan. 19, 2017—Syria’s political fate comes down to a man, his extended family and his political entourage. When President Bashar Assad decided in March 2011 on a violently brutal response to peaceful protest, he separated himself from the interests of his citizenry. When he embarked on a survival strategy featuring mass homicide, he facilitated the rise of the Islamic State group as a political foil and created a humanitarian abomination that made Syria’s problems the problems of all its neighbors and western Europe.

New Challenges From Israel’s East and North: Eric R. Mandel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2017—With the emergence of Iranian hegemony from Afghanistan to Beirut, Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is watching not only threats from Gaza and Lebanon, but also other areas of potential instability, including locations that have been quiet for years; the Golan Heights and Jordan.

Why Did Russia Offer Autonomy for Syria’s Kurds?: Al-Monitor, Jan. 29, 2017—UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura praised the Russian-brokered Syria talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which ended Jan. 24, as a “concrete step” toward implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions dealing with Syria, commending Russia, Turkey and Iran for setting up a mechanism to ensure compliance with the cease-fire announced last month.








Russia Emerges as a Center of Gravity for Israel: Yury Barmin, Al-Monitor, Nov. 7, 2016 — As Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev prepares to visit Israel and Palestine on Nov. 9-11 to facilitate peace negotiations, Russia and Israel find themselves recovering from a diplomatic spat that could not only have derailed those attempts but also soured their relationship.

Russia's Growing Middle Eastern Prowess: Anna Borshchevskaya, Middle East Forum, Nov. 17, 2016 — Moscow's military intervention in Syria has not only made it a key factor in that country's civil war but has also boosted its regional standing, netted it a major naval outlet in the Eastern Mediterranean, and exacerbated Europe's domestic problems by accelerating the refugee outpour into the Continent.

Beware the Hungry Bear: Norman A. Bailey, Asia Times, Nov. 17, 2016 — With the world’s attention fixed on the astonishing victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, grossly insufficient attention is being paid to another and potentially very dangerous development.

‘Winter Is Coming,’ by Garry Kasparov: Serge Schmemann, New York Times, Nov. 2, 2016 — Russians in positions of power tend to measure their country’s standing in the world against the United States, longing to be recognized as equally important and powerful and getting very angry when they’re not so treated.


On Topic Links


Israeli Official: Russia Has Long-Term Ambitions in the Middle East: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2016

Is Russia More Dangerous than ISIS?: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Nov. 21, 2016

Tip of the Iceberg: Russian Use of Power in Syria: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, BESA, Oct. 9, 2016

A Trump-Putin Axis?: Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 24, 2016




Yury Barmin

                                                Al-Monitor, Nov. 7, 2016


As Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev prepares to visit Israel and Palestine on Nov. 9-11 to facilitate peace negotiations, Russia and Israel find themselves recovering from a diplomatic spat that could not only have derailed those attempts but also soured their relationship. On Oct. 13, UNESCO adopted a controversial resolution that criticizes Israel’s “escalating aggression” regarding a holy site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jews and Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) to Muslims. The resolution, which was backed by Russia, refers to the holy site only by its Arab name, which understandably infuriated Jerusalem.


A week later, on Oct. 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his birthday. According to Israeli sources, Netanyahu expressed his disappointment at Russia’s support for the “anti-Israel” UNESCO resolution and protested the move. Putin had to go to great lengths to cushion the blow, eventually dispatching a high-level Foreign Ministry delegation to Jerusalem to explain the Russian position on the UNESCO vote.


Remarkably, incidents like this are uncharacteristic of the general understanding Israel and Russia enjoy across a variety of contexts. Netanyahu might not have been happy to see Russian Sukhoi Su fighter jets interfere in the already-complex Syrian equation, but evidently he found certain benefits in it. Russia and Israel, despite their different visions of a post-war Syria, have one thing in common: Neither wants to see more governments being destabilized in the Middle East, because at the end of the day the spillover of instability threatens them both.


Regarding the Syrian war, Israel’s interests are shaped around guarding its borders from a multitude of perceived threats, including Hezbollah incursions and the group’s growing strength; the Syrian government’s claims to the Golan Heights; Sunni rebels developing military infrastructure along Israel’s borders; and most importantly, attacks by Iran. In this context, the physical presence of Russian forces in Syria may not necessarily be against Israel’s own interests, as it may help contain these threats.


The involvement of Russian officers in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military planning will discourage Damascus from taking any action against Israel, which is as good a guarantee as Netanyahu can expect in current circumstances. The Israeli prime minister traveled to Russia twice this year and insists that he received assurances from Putin that the country’s borders would not be violated in the course of the ongoing war, something Washington, Israel’s closest ally, is presently unable to guarantee. To that end, Moscow and Jerusalem have agreed to coordinate their actions in Syria as well as share intelligence.


Despite occasional cross-border operations, Israel would like to avoid interfering militarily in Syria due to the high risk of being drawn in deeper or provoking retaliation. Intelligence-sharing also greatly benefits Moscow, which receives more balanced intelligence, allowing it to put into perspective the kind of information provided by its allies from the Baghdad coordination center. Initial stages of the Russian operation in Syria showed that intelligence gathered by Damascus and Tehran was not always accurate.


It's not so much Assad that worries Israel, but rather Iran's influence on Assad. Containing Tehran and its allies in the region, including the Syrian leader and Hezbollah, is the endgame for Jerusalem at the moment. Controlling the arms flow to Hezbollah fighters is part of the effort to contain unfriendly forces, and Russia is instrumental in achieving this. After Russia increased its aid to the Syrian government in mid-2014, Israel noticed a spike in deliveries of surface-to-surface missiles to Hezbollah. Jerusalem demanded that the Kremlin control weapons turnover in Syria.


Some sources in Israeli diplomatic circles told Al-Monitor that Russia went as far as to intentionally delay the delivery of S-300 missile systems to Iran for breaking its promise not to transfer Russian weapons to Hezbollah. These incidents encouraged Moscow and Jerusalem to reach an agreement whereby Israel reserves the right to attack Hezbollah convoys carrying weapons that could potentially be used against it, and Russia received assurances that as long as Israel’s territory is not threatened, Israel will refrain from a military intervention in Syria.


Beyond Syria, however, Russia’s influence in the Middle East remains limited. The role Moscow plays in this conflict is the reason its opinion matters to policymakers in the region. Having invested so much effort and money trying to resolve the Syrian crisis, Putin would see it as his own geopolitical loss if he couldn’t cement Russia’s influence in the region beyond the conflict. With this in mind, Russia is actively looking for other entry points that could move it into a position as a key decision-maker in the Middle East in the long run. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one such point.


The first signs that Russia’s vision of its role in the Middle East is evolving came in late 2015. Two months into Russia's military campaign in Syria, Putin changed the leading figures: The Foreign Ministry and Putin’s Mideast envoy, Mikhail Bogdanov, were sidelined, and the military intelligence circles came to the fore. As a diplomat in Moscow confirmed to Al-Monitor, Bogdanov was charged with handling a number of “second-tier” issues related to the Middle East where Russia could act as a mediator, including the crises in Yemen and Libya, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


In Russia’s view, the impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks since 2014 presents a perfect opportunity for it to spearhead a renewed diplomatic effort. Given the problems with past rounds of talks, the Kremlin is cautious in its ambitions but has proposed to host Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow for direct talks, to which both reportedly have agreed. Russia is unlikely to break the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, but Jerusalem will play along anyway. The cases of Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict indicate that the United States could be gradually retreating from the Middle East, which would mean that US partners in the region might have to seek new alliances. While remaining wary of Russia’s intentions in the Middle East, Israel may have no choice but to gravitate toward Moscow.



RUSSIA'S GROWING MIDDLE EASTERN PROWESS                                                                     

Anna Borshchevskaya                                                                                          

Middle East Forum, Nov. 17, 2016


Moscow's military intervention in Syria has not only made it a key factor in that country's civil war but has also boosted its regional standing, netted it a major naval outlet in the Eastern Mediterranean, and exacerbated Europe's domestic problems by accelerating the refugee outpour into the Continent.


While minimizing the Middle East's sectarian divide and portraying its intervention as support for the Syrian government's legitimate fight against terrorists, Moscow has effectively backed a Shiite, anti-Sunni bloc by aligning itself with Tehran – a historic-enemy-turned-ally in opposition to Western regional interests.


This assertiveness is emblematic of Putin's proclivity for military adventures abroad – from Georgia (2008), to Ukraine (2014), to Syria – as a means to reassert Russia's international standing and to consolidate his rule by diverting public attention from the country's domestic problems. The 2014 annexation of Crimea, for example, enabled him to rally the nation behind him in the face of tightening economic sanctions; the Syrian intervention has had a similar effect.


As the economy worsens still further, the Kremlin suppresses dissent and whips up ultra-nationalist sentiment by glorifying the likes of Ivan the Terrible and Stalin. This in turn makes Russia into an unstable and unpredictable one-man rule without eliminating Putin's need to generate recurring crises to continue diverting the restive population from the country's domestic problems.


In order to contain Moscow, which is likely to test the Trump administration by exploiting the divergences between Washington and its European allies, the West needs a long-term, unified strategy that will place future talks with Russia within an unambiguous and comprehensive framework. It can demonstrate its support for its Middle Eastern allies by tightening the sanctions against the Russian military-industrial complex; making Moscow accountable for its Syrian war crimes; and credibly threatening a limited use of force against the Assad regime for any future ceasefire violations.


Ultimately, the Russian options are limited and contingent on what the West will or will not do. The devastating consequences of taking Putin at his word in Syria for a year now has blinded the West to his hostile intent. Western success will therefore depend on drawing a firm and decisive line in the sand that Moscow will not dare to cross.                      




BEWARE THE HUNGRY BEAR                                                         

Norman A. Bailey                                                                                            

Asia Times, Nov. 17, 2016


With the world’s attention fixed on the astonishing victory of Donald Trump in the American presidential election, grossly insufficient attention is being paid to another and potentially very dangerous development. Trump may end up being a disaster of continental proportions or he may be just what the doctor ordered for a country that has been drowning in debt and political correctness…But halfway around the world a crafty master of negotiation, propaganda, subversion, and military display is making huge strides towards the achievement of his immediate and long-term goals.


Vladimir Putin is playing a difficult hand masterfully. The Russian economy is weak and getting worse as the market for its principal mainstays, oil and gas, is increasingly unstable. This explains why the preceding list of the elements of statecraft used by Putin does not include economic strategies. Despite this and a serious demographic meltdown, Russia is expanding its power and influence in every direction.


It is obvious why a great connoisseur of negotiating skills such as Trump finds Putin a fellow spirit. The Russian armed forces are engaged in a massive display of military might, up to and including engaging in ongoing hostilities in Syria, where naval and air bases have been acquired and ships and aircraft deployed, now including its single aircraft carrier. In a very short time Russia has become a recognized player in the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East.


Turkey has been humbled and has sued for peace. Chalk up another Putin victory. Moldova and Bulgaria are now governed by pro-Russian regimes and no-one will be surprised if Moldova now merges with the Russian enclave Transnistria and then applies for reincorporation into the Russian empire. Whether that happens or not Ukraine is now threatened on both its western and eastern flanks.


The dismemberment of Georgia and Ukraine have become accepted facts subject only to occasional toothless denunciations from the West. That stalwart of post-Soviet progress on both the political and economic fronts, Estonia, is now suddenly politically unstable. Former Soviet satellites Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are now governed by anti-Western regimes as well. While all that is going on, Russian ships and planes incessantly violate the waters and airspace of neighboring (as well as some non-neighboring) countries. Again, reaction has been feeble.


Despite its economic weakness, Russia has been able to devote sufficient resources to its armed forces so that they can deploy state-of-the-art equipment (at a time when Western defense establishments are starved of resources) and of course a massive nuclear arsenal inherited from the Soviet Union.


There is nothing backward about Russian science and technology, as demonstrated by constant hacking of an assortment of Western targets, both governmental and non-governmental. Blatant interference in the recent US election has elicited not much more than a tepid response and of course Edward Snowden is still plying his trade in Moscow.


The significance of all this activity resides in the confluence of economic weakness and demographic decline coupled with brilliant statecraft and military might. Having to depend on the pride of the Russian people in their enhanced international standing for his popularity may well lead Putin to engage in ever-increasing levels of challenge to the West. Any number of circumstances could set off a military confrontation, escalating to open warfare and even the use of nuclear weapons.


A friend in the White House is not necessarily a bad thing under these circumstances. Putin may feel that escalating conflicts might jeopardize his relations with Trump. We must hope so, because the alternative—a Russia hurtling towards armed confrontation with the West, is a prospect that should thoroughly frighten us all.                                                                       




‘WINTER IS COMING,’ BY GARRY KASPAROV                                      

Serge Schmemann                                                                  

New York Times, Nov. 2, 2016


Russians in positions of power tend to measure their country’s standing in the world against the United States, longing to be recognized as equally important and powerful and getting very angry when they’re not so treated. President Vladimir Putin has made victimhood at America’s hands a leitmotif of his reign, and many Russians have bought into his claim that Washington tirelessly seeks ways to weaken, impoverish and otherwise humiliate their country. Many critics of Putin, in Russia and in the West, similarly hold that Washington’s treatment of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union was disdainful and thus undermined embryonic moves toward democracy, contributing to the rise of Putinism.


Garry Kasparov, the great Russian chess grandmaster who has become a fierce Putin opponent, offers a mirror image of this theme. In his view, espoused in many articles and now in “Winter Is Coming,” the West — more specifically, the United States, and even more specifically the Democratic Party under President Obama — is guilty of chronic appeasement and weakness in letting bad guys like Putin stay in power.


I should say up front that I cannot agree that the United States somehow deliberately sought to humiliate Russia in those chaotic days in the 1990s when Communist rule collapsed, or somehow failed to support the first tentative democratic reforms. To argue that the United States had the prescience and power to understand and direct events in Russia overlooks the enormous complexity in the disintegration of a vast, nuclear-armed, totalitarian empire. From the time Mikhail Gorbachev first loosened Soviet control until the Soviet Union was dissolved in December 1991, events moved in ways nobody in the East or West could predict or fully grasp, and it is to Russia’s and America’s credit that so little blood was shed in that momentous transition.


Kasparov sees things differently. To him, what hope there was for Russia after the Berlin Wall came down soon turned into a steady march toward authoritarian rule under a former K.G.B. agent, aided and abetted by a feckless West. Half the book is about the evolution of Putin from Boris Yeltsin’s handpicked successor to the capo di tutti capi of a mafia state. There is not much new here, and most readers will not need to be convinced that Putin is a bad guy.


The other and more important theme of the book is the reputed absence of a moral component in Western foreign affairs, which has “encouraged autocrats like Putin and terrorist groups like ISIS to flourish around the world.” Kasparov’s message is aimed at an American audience. Written in English (with the chess writer Mig Greengard), and with a title borrowed from “Game of Thrones,”  “Winter Is Coming” is meant as a warning of impending doom should the West persist with the “moral capitulation” that Kasparov repeatedly decries.


There’s no pretense of nonpartisanship here, no subtlety. A fiery man known for his dynamic play in chess and for his self-assurance, Kasparov fully credits Ronald Reagan for the end of the Cold War and the fall of the “evil empire” — “Lesser problems were left to lesser men” — and he has no doubt that “the world would be a safer, more democratic place today had John McCain been elected” president, or at least Mitt Romney, who called Russia “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.” Barack Obama, by contrast, is relentlessly and repeatedly skewered: The president is “reluctant to confront the enemies of democracy to defend the values he touts so convincingly”; he is “busy retreating on every front”; and even when he does seem to be standing up to Putin, the most Kasparov can allow is, “I suppose that doing the right thing for the wrong reason is better than never doing it at all.”


The politicking becomes somewhat tedious, as do the “I told you so” moments scattered through the book: “It is cold comfort to be told, ‘You were right!’ ” Kasparov laments in his introduction. But much as one may disagree with Kasparov’s analyses, the main problem here is not so much with his accusations of Western or American perfidy. He has his right to his opinions, and even to the aggressive tone in which they are served up. That’s who he is. I covered Kasparov’s ascent to the world chess championship against the grandmaster openly preferred by the Kremlin, Anatoly Karpov, in matches that became a memorable ideological contest between the audacious upstart and the dull company man. In 2005, Kasparov retired from professional chess and dedicated himself “to push back against the rising tide of repression coming from the Kremlin,” and he was admirably active in the ­anti-Putin marches until a relentless crackdown curtailed open opposition. Kasparov now lives in self-imposed exile — temporary, he insists — in New York.


The real problem with “Winter Is Coming” is with its presumption that the United States is somehow responsible for what Russia has become, or for what it should become. Certainly Washington has an obligation to challenge Moscow and Putin when international norms or human rights are violated. Indeed, Obama and America’s democratic allies have done just that with the progressively tougher sanctions they have ordered against Russia. But even Reagan, the president Kasparov so adulates, never sought regime change in the “evil empire,” instead looking for areas of cooperation with Gorbachev. And ultimately it was Gorbachev, more than any American or other Western leader, who played the greatest role in bringing down the Soviet system.


Yet Kasparov, born and raised in the Soviet Union and intimately aware that Communism was overthrown first and foremost by Russians themselves, acknowledges their responsibility for Putin’s rule only in one throwaway line — “In the end, Putin is a Russian problem, of course, and Russians must deal with how to remove him.’’ The next sentence is: “He and his repressive regime, however, are supported directly and indirectly by the free world.” What the free world should be doing, he argues, includes adopting a “global Magna Carta” uniting all democracies in the fight against dictators, arming Ukraine, developing substitutes for the energy Europe imports from Russia and heeding Kasparov. Over the years, he laments, he has provided long lists of ways to counter Putin, but “even now, after he has proven my worst fears correct and everyone is telling me how right I was, few of those recommendations have been enacted.”


This is not the place to argue the merits or feasibility of arming Ukraine or cutting Russian gas imports. Nor is there a need to defend President Obama against Kasparov’s crude and baseless insults. The question to be posed is whether even the most aggressive Western stance toward Putin would make him less dictatorial or Russia more free. That change must come from within, and I would have much preferred to hear Kasparov’s take on what must change in Russia and how the Russians might do it. There are plenty of other people to trash Barack Obama.


On Topic Links


Israeli Official: Russia Has Long-Term Ambitions in the Middle East: Jerusalem Post, Nov. 16, 2016—Israel should be concerned about the deepening disconnect between Russia's aims in the Middle East and its own goals, according to a senior Israeli official who held high-level meetings in Moscow last week.

Is Russia More Dangerous than ISIS?: Michael Rubin, Commentary, Nov. 21, 2016—As President-elect Donald Trump begins to fill his top administration spots, his selection of retired General Michael Flynn suggests that Trump’s  campaign trail flirtations were not empty rhetoric and he intends to move forward with a partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tip of the Iceberg: Russian Use of Power in Syria: Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, BESA, Oct. 9, 2016—Russia's status in the Middle East has changed remarkably in recent years. Some go so far as to argue, with some justification, that it has become the most powerful superpower in the region, or at least within the context of the Syrian conflict. The main reason for this has been Russian President Vladimir Putin's ability to invest significant resources in the region, coupled with his willingness to take significant risk.

A Trump-Putin Axis?: Neville Teller, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 24, 2016— US President-elect Donald Trump admires Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.  That much became clear during Trump’s presidential campaign, as did his intention when in office to repair the US’s damaged relations with the Russian Federation.  At the moment the US and Russia, although both nominally combating Islamic State (IS) in the Syrian civil war, are so far from allies that they are very nearly belligerents.






Syria’s Interlocking Conflicts: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2016 — The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced last Friday the commencement of an operation to conquer the northern Syrian city of Raqqa.

Assad Gloats as Obama Exits: Max Boot, Commentary, Nov. 3, 2016 — That was quite an interview that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gave to foreign reporters. As recounted by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, it was a study in surrealism.

Russia Sends Warplanes, We Send Messages: John Robson, National Post, Oct. 31, 2016 — So now the UN Human Rights Council is after Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad.

Trump, Israel and the Middle East: Dr. Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Nov. 11, 2016 — Any attempt to assess Donald Trump's Middle East policy faces real difficulties as it is reasonable to assume that he lacks the requisite knowledge, deep understanding and most certainly the experience for dealing with the Middle East…


On Topic Links


The United States, Syria, and Chemical Weapons: An Unfinished Symphony: Assaf Orion, INSS, Oct. 6, 2016

Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again: Oliver Bullough, New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016

Why Russia and Iran Are Abetting the Syrian Government: Harold Rhode, JCPA, Oct. 9, 2016

Israel in the Trump Era: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2016




Jonathan Spyer

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 11, 2016


The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces announced last Friday the commencement of an operation to conquer the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. The operation was designated “Euphrates Wrath.” Raqqa is the capital of the “Caliphate” maintained by Islamic State. In tandem with the effort currently under way to recapture the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS, the loss of Raqqa would represent the final eclipse of the Islamic State as a quasi-sovereign entity. At this point, it would revert back to the guerrilla/insurgent/ terrorist force which it constituted prior to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.


Conquering the city is likely to be a slow business. However, the final outcome is not in doubt. The Islamic State, whose main slogan in Arabic is Baqiya watatamadad (remaining and expanding), has in reality been contracting since the high point of its advance in the autumn of 2014. Its eventual demise, at least as a quasi-state entity, is assured.


But Syria is host not only to the war against ISIS, but to a series of other, interlocking conflicts. And one of these additional conflicts pits the two main candidates for the leading role in the fight against ISIS in Raqqa against one another.


Observe: there is in Syria today no less than five identifiable conflicts taking place. These are Turkish-backed Sunni Arab rebel and Islamist organizations against the Assad dictatorship; Western backed SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces, dominated by the Kurdish YPG) against ISIS; Kurdish YPG against the Assad regime; the aforementioned Sunni rebels against ISIS; and lastly, the Sunni rebels against the SDF.


The problem for those seeking to cobble together a force to take Raqqa city –and by so doing destroy the Islamic State – is that the two eligible forces to carry out this action are the mainly Kurdish SDF, and the Turkish- backed, mainly Islamist Sunni rebels – but these forces are at war with one another! After the SDF announced the commencement of the Raqqa campaign this week, Turkish President Recep Tayepp Erdogan expressed his opposition to the decision, repeating his assertion that the Kurdish YPG are merely “another terror organization… a side branch” of the PKK.


Following the SDF’s announcement, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met with Turkish Chief of Staff General Hulusi Akar in Ankara. After the meeting, Dunford said that the US would work together with Turkey to develop a longterm plan for “seizing, holding and governing” the city.


Dunford stated that the US believed that the largely non-Arab SDF “wasn’t the solution” for “holding and governing” largely Sunni Arab Raqqa. A judicious reader will notice that Dunford’s statement doesn’t say that the SDF is unsuitable for the job of capturing the city, only for holding it afterward.


The root of the deep differences between the SDF and the Turkish-supported rebels are to be found not only in the soil of northern Syria. Rather, they are inextricably linked to the long insurgency fought by Turkey’s Kurds against a succession of governments in Ankara since 1984.


The fragmenting of Syria formed a historic opportunity for the Syrian Kurds, which they have seized. The PYD, the Syrian Kurdish franchise of the PKK organization, established three self-governing cantons along the Syrian-Turkish border in 2012. In 2015, against the background of the fight against ISIS, they managed to unite two of these: Jazeera and Kobani. On March 17, 2016, the ruling coalition in these areas announced the formation of the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava.


The US since October 2015 has found the Kurdish YPG to be a formidable and useful ground partner to coalition air power against ISIS. But the Kurds themselves, while welcoming the alliance with the US, have long sought another objective, namely, to unite the three cantons – connecting Jazira/Kobani with Afrin in the far northwest of the country.


From a Turkish point of view, the prospect of a PKK-linked party controlling the entirety of the 800-km. border between Syria and Turkey is entirely unacceptable. Since mid-2015, a Kurdish insurgency is once again under way against the Turkish government. As part of the general post-coup crackdown, Erdogan this week arrested Turkey’s most prominent Kurdish politician, Salahattin Demirtas of the HDP. Since 2012, the instruments Turkey chose to use to contain the Syrian Kurds were the mainly Islamist rebel movements of northern Syria, from the more moderate elements across to Jabhat al Nusra and possibly at one time also ISIS.


By mid-2016, supporting ISIS was no longer an option, and the rebels by themselves were too weak for the purpose. So in August, Turkey boldly launched a direct intervention into northern Syria. ISIS were the ostensible target, but the clear purpose was to bisect Syria’s north, rendering a sufficient area impassable that the danger of the Kurds linking up their cantons would disappear.


This process is not yet complete. The Kurds are still west of the Euphrates, in the town of Manbij. And the crucial ISIS-held town of Al-Bab remains unconquered. The Turks would like to help their rebel clients take the town and end any further possibility of Kurdish unification. But here, in the usual labyrinthine way, other players enter the picture.


Al-Bab is close to Aleppo. It is possible that the Russians have warned Erdogan that the town remains out of bounds. But the point to bear in mind is that the process of coalition-building against ISIS in Syria is complicated by the fact that two potential members of the coalition – the US-backed SDF and the Turkish army with their Sunni Arab allies – are currently engaged in a direct conflict with one another. In this regard, it is worth noting the yawning gap between the military achievements of the Syrian Kurds and their dearth of similar successes in the diplomatic and political fields. While YPG commanders call in US air strikes against ISIS, no country has recognized the Federation of Northern Syria, and it has received little media coverage.


Dunford’s hurried visit to Ankara reflects the diplomatic state of play. Namely, that the agenda of a Turkish government, even one that openly supports Sunni jihadis, must be indulged, while that of a Kurdish ally can be dismissed. The Kurds may have little choice in the matter. But they should be careful not to find themselves quickly abandoned once Operation Euphrates Wrath is done.





ASSAD GLOATS AS OBAMA EXITS                                                  

Max Boot                                                                                

Commentary, Nov. 3, 2016


That was quite an interview that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad gave to foreign reporters. As recounted by Anne Barnard of the New York Times, it was a study in surrealism. While his own forces and those of Iran and Russia commit war crimes to keep him in power, Assad sits in his presidential palace in Damascus and pretends that all is well. The assembled journalists asked him about the demolition and starvation of civilian areas. His response:


“Let’s suppose that these allegations are correct and this president has killed his own people, and the free world and the West are helping the Syrian people,” Mr. Assad said in English. “After five years and a half, who supported me? How can I be a president and my people don’t support me?” He gave a small giggle and added, “This is not realistic story.” This reminded me of an answer that the late Muammar Gaddafi gave when he was asked about human rights violations in Libya at a Council on Foreign Relations event. The people rule in Libya, he said, so how can the people violate their own human rights? This is dictator logic that wouldn’t fool an intelligent 10-year-old, but that apparently allows these ruthless rulers to live with themselves.


Assad’s giggle was a chilling touch. So, too, was this: “Mr. Assad joked about his love of technology—’I follow the gadgets on a daily basis’—and noted with pride that 4G mobile phone technology had been introduced in Syria during the war.” So Syria has seen nearly 500,000 dead and more than 10 million refugees, but all is all well because at least some of the survivors have access to 4G!


What this interview suggests is that Assad is living in a state of denial, or, at least, doing a good job of putting up a front of denial for visitors. It is hard to know whether there is better or worse than if he were actually bragging about all the people that he is killing, wounding, and torturing. It suggests he is utterly disconnected from the horrors for which he is responsible. That, of course, means he has no compunctions about inflicting more horrors in the future.


The interview made plain that he is not going anywhere: “He promised that a new era of openness and dialogue was underway in Syria and said that he was thinking ahead about how to modernize Syrians’ mentality after a war that he believed his forces were assured of winning. Mr. Assad ruled out political changes until then and declared that he planned to remain president at least until his third seven-year term ends in 2021.”


There is little reason at the moment to doubt that he can last until 2021 and beyond–even if he cannot control the entire country by then, he has managed to consolidate his rule over a rump portion. Now his Russian and Iranian allies are hell-bent on destroying the last bastion of regime resistance in Aleppo. Russia has been warning that it will end a short moratorium on bombing Aleppo on Friday. The only force capable of arresting the Assad-Iran-Russia war machine is the United States. Our aircraft continue to fly over Syria bombing ISIS positions, but they leave the worst perpetrators of war crimes untouched. And that is unlikely to change as long as President Obama remains in office. No wonder Bashar Assad is sitting pretty. He will outlast the American president who called for his overthrow.    




RUSSIA SENDS WARPLANES, WE SEND MESSAGES                                                                    

John Robson                                                                                                       

National Post, Oct. 31, 2016


So now the UN Human Rights Council is after Vladimir Putin and Bashar Assad. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Unlike, say, the Russian president, who is undoubtedly shaking … with laughter. What can these people do to him?


It is a relief to see any UN body take time out from its sinister Israel fixation. And it matters to document atrocities even when everybody knows they’re happening. The rule of law does not work by “everybody knows” even when everyone currently does. And as with Yad Vashem’s Names Recovery Project, the dignity of the victims requires an effort to record what was done to them as individuals. Reducing them to a blurry mass is what the villains hope to accomplish.


Nevertheless, the entire venture has an air of dangerous fatuity about it. The problem isn’t squeamishness about naming the perpetrators directly before the investigation. If this were a real legal proceeding, it would be appropriate to preserve the presumption of innocence even when everybody does know. The problem is confusing empty words with effective deeds, a kind of habitual fantasy bred in domestic politics with lethal consequences when applied internationally.


Reuters says “Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, had earlier called for major powers to put aside their differences and refer the situation in eastern Aleppo to the International Criminal Court.” But don’t you see, you silly pompous man, that a key “difference” between the major powers here is that the Russian government wants to commit these atrocities and the others wish they’d stop?


A British resolution to investigate Aleppo was adopted 24-7, with Russia and dependably villainous China against, and 16 abstentions, which gives you some idea what the UN is worth as the world’s conscience. As for Britain’s “junior Foreign Office minister” telling journalists the Russian air campaign on behalf of the murderous Syrian tyrant “is shameful and it is not the action or leadership that we expect from a P5 (permanent member of the UN Security Council) nation” I can only quote Professor Plum from the movie Clue, “You don’t know what kind of people they have at the UN.” Putin occupies Stalin’s P5 seat, for goodness sake.


If the UN looks grotesque as the world’s conscience, it is utterly feeble as its policeman. For the other crucial “difference” is that Moscow is prepared to bring the massive power of its modern military establishment to bear in Syria, while the West has dithered until intervention risks great power confrontation and the UN has no army with which to “arrest” those who violate “international law.” I am not indifferent to atrocities or aggression. But I have a realistic sense of what can be done about them. I very much wish U.S. President Barack Obama had acted on his “red line” in Syria five years ago instead of preening, equivocating and golfing. But he didn’t and now it’s too late. And you need to be able to tell the time and know the score in such matters.


There are choices here. You can take a grimly realistic view of the world in which atrocities are routinely committed by people too powerful to be stopped or punished, and take what you can get in this ghastly geopolitical jungle. Or you can take a militantly idealistic view and seek to impose justice globally though the heavens fall … on you, an approach frequently described as Wilsonian, though Woodrow Wilson actually shared the regrettably common habit of combining what Teddy Roosevelt called “the unready hand with the unbridled tongue.”


Roosevelt called such people “prize jackasses.” Even more to the point, and pointedly, he said: “A milk-and-water righteousness unbacked by force is to the full as wicked as and even more mischievous than force divorced from righteousness.” It is wicked to pride oneself on self-satisfied posturing from a safe distance. And it is mischievous because it exposes the do-gooders’ impotence. A Human Rights Watch spokesman said this “decisive action … sent a clear message that illegal attacks on civilians must end and that those responsible will be held to account.” But they won’t. When Russia sends warplanes and we send messages, the pen is not mightier than the sword.


Does anyone seriously see Putin in the dock, having piously laid aside his nuclear arsenal? Yet the deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN also said of the “shocking acts in Aleppo” that “those who commit them must be held accountable.” By who? What does Putin care for the UNHRC? As Roosevelt’s secretary of state Elihu Root put it, you do not “shake your fist at a man and then shake your finger at him,” or he will laugh off your threats and your reproaches. The victims in Aleppo deserve better than sanctimonious make-believe. So does the security of the West.                    




TRUMP, ISRAEL AND THE MIDDLE EAST                                                                    

Dr. Mordechai Kedar                       

Arutz Sheva, Nov. 11, 2016


Any attempt to assess Donald Trump's Middle East policy faces real difficulties as it is reasonable to assume that he lacks the requisite knowledge, deep understanding and most certainly the experience for dealing with the Middle East, its history, religions, ideologies, trends, the powers that move it, wars that tear it apart, Israel and its issues, and Russian involvement in the terrible catastrophe that is Syria, whose waves are flooding Europe's shores and crossing the Atlantic Ocean.


In addition, the fact is that all through last year's campaign, Trump did not give a clear indication of a comprehensive Middle East policy, with the exception of three pronouncements: his plans to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, his plans to open the Iran Agreement and his insistence on stopping Islamic migration to the US, including Syrian refugees. These pronouncements may have simply been aimed at attracting voters, mainly Jews, but they may also express his real intentions.


That is why I am going to base my predictions for America's Middle East policy for the next few years on the impressions I received during the past year, particularly from listening closely to Trump's speeches at public events that were broadcast by the media. First of all, the main factor behind Trump's opinions is not information or facts but his gut feelings. This is a typical trait among successful businessmen who feel that they know everything and no one knows better than they, as they say to themselves: "I am a billionaire and my adviser lives on a salary. If he were smarter than I am, he would be the billionaire and I would be earning that salary."


In Trump's campaign speeches he played on his listener's emotions, saying things like "I will make America great again!" and "I will bring back hope to the hearts of Americans!!" "I will stop Islamic migration to the USA!!" – this last declaration taking advantage of the growing anti-Islamic feeling in the USA, partly due to the terror attacks perpetrated by radical Muslims in the US on 9/11, at Ford Hood, Times Square, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, Orlando and more. and partly due to what is happening in Europe (unvetted migration, violence in the streets, terror in Paris, Brussels and more) and to the terrible photoraphs that are sent 24/7 from the Middle East.


Politics has many faces and its issues are never black and white, good or bad. Instead, they are composed of a mixture of negative and positive elements. Politics is the "art of the possible," an unending attempt to accentuate the positive and strengthen it, while accepting the negative as part of the rules of the game and an attempt to weaken its influence. The business world, on the other hand, is a world of black and white, good or bad, profit or loss. Here the picture has much more dichotomy, its colors are clear, there is only one bottom line – and it shows either a plus or a minus end result. There are intermediate periods of balance, but there is no situation of "both this and that." In business, deals are finalized, while in politics, the process is long, complex, and aimed at objectives that are often not final, not enforced in the end because of political and not business world considerations. Often, businesses have different ethical rules than those of politicians, at least when those rules do not lead to financial success.


The first question regarding Trump has to do with whether he will think like a politician or a businessman. Judging by his repeated pronouncements against the American political establishment, Republican and especially Democrat, it is reasonable to assume that Trump thinks and decides things like a businessman, and that what will guide his decisions are the questions of what he feels is best for America, what strengthens her, what best serves her interests, empowers her economy, creates more jobs, who are her enemies and who are her friends. If that is going to be his way of thinking when he turns to the issue of formulating his Middle East policy, it will probably have the following characteristics:


1. The basis for his policy will be branding the sides in the area as "friends and allies" or "enemies." That will bring him back to the terminology used by George W. Bush, who would constantly refer to countries as "our friend and ally,"  a term Obama was careful to avoid, because that made everyone else our "enemy."  My feeling is that Trump will call Israel "our best ally" and possibly keep his promise to move the US  Embassy to Jerusalem. The ideological and mental click between Trump and Netanyahu will create a cordial and warm atmosphere between the two, which will be the basis for an exchange of opinions, a meeting of the minds and cooperation in the deepest sense of the word. Trump will thus repair the situation that sullied US-Israel relations for the past eight years, while Obama lived in the White House.


That aside, there can also be a scenario in which Trump loses his patience and tells Netanyahu something like: "My dear friend, after 50 years of 'occupation' (as some Israelis call it) please be kind enough to sit down with your Arab neighbors and reach an agreement with them, and you have six months to do this. If you don't succeed, at the end of six months I will solve the problem my own way using my own methods, so for your own sake, don't let us get to that point." Trump could even justify this dictate by pointing out that he moved the embassy to Jerusalem. This "business" approach – recognizing Jerusalem in return for leaving Judea and Samaria will put Israel in a difficult position, especially since both houses of congress are Republican and it does not stand to reason that they would invite Netanyahu to deliver a speech that is in direct disagreement with the president's policies, as they did during Obama's term of office…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links


The United States, Syria, and Chemical Weapons: An Unfinished Symphony: Assaf Orion, INSS, Oct. 6, 2016—In the summer of 2013, more than one thousand civilians in a suburb of Damascus were murdered in an attack by the Syrian military that apparently included use of the chemical agent sarin. Soon after, the United States issued an ultimatum, declaring that the Assad regime could well be subject to attack if it did not refrain from using chemical weapons.

Putin in Syria: Chechnya All Over Again: Oliver Bullough, New York Times, Oct. 11, 2016—The difference between Aleppo now and Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, at the turn of the millennium is that Western leaders are at least trying to save the Syrians trapped in the besieged city. A decade and a half ago, there were precious few diplomatic missions for the Chechens.

Why Russia and Iran Are Abetting the Syrian Government: Harold Rhode, JCPA, Oct. 9, 2016—The Syrian government, Russia, and Iran (SRI) are trying the change the demographic makeup of Syria.  They aim to depopulate Syria of the Arab Sunnis, which, before the Arab Spring was the largest religio-ethnic group in Syria.

Israel in the Trump Era: Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 12, 2016—What can we expect from President- elect Donald Trump’s administration? The positions that Trump struck during the presidential campaign were sometimes inconsistent and even contradictory. So it is impossible to forecast precisely what he will do in office.




On Topic Links


A Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2016: Yoram Ettinger, Algemeiner, Oct. 10, 2016

A Peek Inside the IDF 8200's Combat Intelligence Unit: Israel Defense, Oct. 12, 2016

Meet the IDF’s ‘Beduin Battalion’: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 13, 2016

Trump’s Moment of Truth: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2016





Judah Ari Gross

Times of Israel, Sept. 28, 2016


Before Shimon Peres became the man of peace extolled by world leaders for his dedication to coexistence, he was a man of defense and security, setting up some of Israel’s most important military victories and strategic assets. To many, Peres is synonymous with the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, for which he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and his eponymous Center for Peace, which promotes dialogue and opportunities for both Israelis and Palestinians. Yet few people in Israel have contributed more to the country’s military capabilities.


Following the War of Independence, Peres helped build the country’s air force into the world-renowned juggernaut that it is today and allegedly gave Israel the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons, which reportedly give the country second-strike capabilities in the case of an attack. “Shimon Peres designed the character and values of the Defense Ministry; he led the strengthening and build-up of the IDF’s power and its strategic capabilities,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “He developed security relationships with other nations in the world and took a central role in the creation of the Israel defense industries,” the ministry said in its statement.


After a brief stint in the Haganah and the fledgling Israel Defense Force, Peres led a Defense Ministry delegation to the United States in 1950 and soon after his return was named deputy director-general of the ministry in 1952. He became director-general a year later and in that capacity laid the groundwork for turning Israel’s immature, poorly supplied military into the technological powerhouse the IDF has become.


In the early 1950s, Peres started a relationship with the French government that allegedly resulted in the creation of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and in the purchase of the fighter jets and bombers to replace the IDF’s antiquated World War II-era planes, which would go on to be instrumental in Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Entering the position at age 29, Peres remains the youngest director-general of the Defense Ministry in Israel’s history. But his young age and inexperience did not stop him from setting up Israel’s defense ties with France essentially singlehandedly, according to Guy Ziv, an associate professor at American University’s School of International Service. “What makes this case particularly compelling is not merely that one individual yielded disproportionate influence over the relations beween the two countries, but also that this individual was not a senior policy-maker,” Ziv wrote in a 2010 article in the Journal of Contemporary History.


During the early 1950s, the Foreign Ministry and other high-level Israeli officials were essentially banging their heads against the wall trying to convince the United States to sell artillery, aircraft, guns and tanks to the young Jewish state. Peres, who had tried desperately and failed to purchase weapons from the United States in 1950, turned instead to France, the “friendliest country today,” as he referred to it in a 1954 Defense Ministry meeting. The young Peres had to convince then-defense ministers Pinhas Lavon and David Ben-Gurion that the “French connection,” and not the American, was the way to go, according to Ziv.


“It was natural that the people of post-war France, who had themselves tasted the bitterness of Nazi horror, should feel a kinship with the victims of Nazism who had suffered greater losses,” Peres wrote in his book “David’s Sling.” Through Peres’s relationship with the French, Israel purchased huge quantities of weapons, including artillery cannons, tanks and radar equipment. But most notably, Israel also acquired the French Dassault Mystère IV and Dassault Ouragan fighter jets in 1955, the Dassault Super Mystère B2 in 1958 and the Dassault Mirage IIIC, one of the most advanced aircrafts of its time, in 1962.


All of these aircrafts were used in the 1967 Six Day War, taking out the air forces of Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, which helped pave the way to an unexpected Israeli victory. But the star of the 1967 war was the Mirage, known in Israel as the Shahak, which both carried out bombing runs and engaged in aerial dogfights, shooting down the lion’s share of enemy aircraft. The Mirage remained in use until 1986, and its design was used to create the Israeli Aerospace Industries’ Nesher and Kfir fighter jets, the latter of which was in use until 1996.


But while those aircraft played hugely important roles in the military’s victory in 1967, Peres’s relationship with the French government also fundamentally changed Israel’s security strategy and position, with the creation of Israel’s Negev Nuclear Research Center in Dimona.


In late 1956, representatives from the United Kingdom, France and Israel, including Peres, met for three days in secret at a villa in Sèvres, France, to address Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez canal. At the meeting, it was decided that Israel would spark a conflict with Egypt and the UK and France would send in forces ostensibly to break up the war, but in fact to occupy the area and ensuring shipping through the naval passage. The then-secret agreement became known as the Protocol of Sèvres. It lauched on October 29, 1956, when Israeli forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula. The operation lasted nine days.


Israeli, British and French troops succeeded initially in taking over the area, but considerable outcries against the campaign from the United States and the British and French public forced a withdrawal and turned the secret plan into a public embarrassment for the UK and France — though Israel escaped relatively unscathed. Though it was not a formal part of the Protocol of Sèvres, during the three-day conference planning the ill-fated war, the French agreed to help Israel develop a nuclear reactor, according to a 1997 Foreign Affairs article by Avi Shlaim, a British-Israeli historian.


“It was here that I finalized with these two leaders” — France’s then-prime minister Guy Mollet and then-defense minister Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury — “an agreement for the building of a nuclear reactor at Dimona, in southern Israel,” Peres wrote in his 1995 book “Battling for Peace.” That nuclear reactor in Dimona, along with a supply of uranium, allegedly went on to create Israel’s atomic weapons.


On Wednesday, following Peres’s death, Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission praised the former president, prime minister and defense minister for his role in its creation. “Peres provided a fundamental contribution to the creation of the Negev Nuclear Research Center and to the creation of Israel’s nuclear policies. This was a significant element in securing the national resilience of the State of Israel. Peres’s legacy will lead the IAEC in its actions even in the future,” the commission said in a statement.


Israel still maintains an official policy of so-called “nuclear ambiguity,” neither confirming or denying the possession of atomic weapons. However, in 1998, Peres told reporters in Jordan that Israel had “built a nuclear option, not in order to have a Hiroshima but an Oslo.” Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities, though controversial, are seen as crucial to the country’s survival by many security analysts. “Israel needs its nuclear weapons. This bold statement is not even remotely controversial,” Purdue University professor Louis René Beres wrote in 2014. If deprived of its nuclear weapons, whether still-ambiguous or newly disclosed, Israel would irremediably lose its residual capacity to deter major enemy aggressions,” he wrote…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Louis René Beres

Israel Defense, Sept. 25, 2016


More than likely, the first post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki use of nuclear weapons will be undertaken by North Korea or Pakistan. Should this actually turn out to be the case, the cumulative consequences would impact not only the responsible aggressor state and its multiple victims, but also still-developing strategic nuclear policies in certain other countries. The most obvious and concerning case of such a prospective secondary impact would be Israel.


For now, Israel's nuclear strategy remains "deliberately ambiguous," or in the "basement." Whether well-founded or foolishly conceived, this intentional opacity has endured as national policy because Jerusalem has not yet had to worry about confronting any enemy nuclear forces. This potentially fragile posture would almost certainly need to change, however, if Iran were sometime perceived to have become a near-nuclear adversary.


Significantly, while seldom discussed "out loud," Israel could also feel compelled to shift away from nuclear ambiguity once an actual nuclear attack had taken place elsewhere on earth. In other words, there would need to be no direct connection between such an attack and Israel for the Jewish State to acknowledge certain derivative obligations to alter or modify its own nuclear strategy.


To be sure, any such predictive analytic leap cannot readily be drawn from relevant historical examples. After all, such expectedly pertinent examples simply do not exist. Moreover, to be suitably scientific, any assessments of probability regarding an actual resort to nuclear weapons would have to be based upon the ascertainable frequency of past nuclear events. Fortunately, for human welfare, if not for the science of strategic prediction, there have been no nuclear wars.


What about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Incontestably, the American atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 were not proper examples of a nuclear war, but rather of a unique or one-time use of nuclear weapons designed to end an ongoing and worldwide conventional war. Further, there were no other nuclear weapons states in August 1945 (Washington was not even sure that its own Little Boy and Fat Man would work), so any corollary U.S. strategic calculations could bear no resemblance to what might actually confront Israel today.


For purposes of Israeli strategic thinking, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were utterly sui generis; hence, forever dissimilar to any present or future national security circumstances. Nonetheless, we needn't make any plausible or persuasive probability assessments about North Korea, Pakistan and Israel in order to reach the following conclusion: Once North Korea and/or Pakistan fires nuclear weapons against another state or states, a principal nuclear "taboo" will have been broken, and all existing nuclear powers – especially Israel – will then begin to take more seriously the actual operational use of their own nuclear weapons. The precise manner and extent to which Israel would be impacted in such circumstances would depend, among several more-or-less intersecting factors, on prevailing geopolitical alignments and cleavages, both regional and worldwide. For example, North Korea has already had tangible ties to both Syria and Iran, and all concerned parties could be forced to take into distinctly calculable account the presumed expectations of an already resurgent Cold War.


The "spillover" impact on Israel of any actual nuclear weapons use by North Korea or Pakistan would also depend upon the particular combatants involved, expected rationality or irrationality of these same combatants, yields and range of the nuclear weapons fired, and the prompt aggregate calculation of civilian and military harms actually suffered in the affected areas. If North Korea had fired its nuclear weapons against American targets, military or civilian, Israel could correctly anticipate an overwhelmingly destructive U.S. response. If, in another apt scenario, a government in Islamabad (possibly a post-coup Islamist regime) fired "only" its tactical or theater nuclear weapons, and "only" against exclusively military targets, the Indian response might then be substantially less overwhelming.


It also ought to be noted here, for further predictive clarification, that Pakistan recently shifted certain specific portions of its nuclear targeting doctrine to expressly lower yield, shorter range weapons, presumably to enhance the underlying credibility of its nuclear deterrence posture vis-à-vis India.


All of this would pose stunningly complex calculations for Israeli strategists. Indeed, these planners would have to account capably not only for singular nuclear weapons operations by North Korea or Pakistan, but also for any multiple interactions or synergies that might be involved. It is even conceivable, to offer still another meaningful example, that any North Korean resort to nuclear attack would be followed, more-or-less promptly, by a separate Pakistani use of nuclear weapons. This prospect could represent a chaotic or near-chaotic development, in which Israel would then be faced with a palpably unprecedented analytic challenge…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





“The Yom Kippur War showed our neighbors that they cannot defeat us with weapons…It paved the path to peace with Egypt and later with Jordan…Our hands will continue to reach out to peace to those of our neighbors who want peace…Until then, we will be prepared to defend ourselves with our own forces…Families have grown, have rejoiced at celebrations and marked festivals, but one pain remains engraved in our hearts, the agonizing pain of loss, the pain of longing, the longing that has not dulled from that Yom Kippur of the past until that of today…The loss has not subsided. Once again Yom Kippur comes and another time we gather on this mountain and try to remember” — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at an official ceremony marking the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War. The event took place at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, and commemorated 43 years since the beginning of the war. (Times of Israel, Oct. 13, 2016)


"We started off, we had no ISIS, and now, seven and a half years later, they're in, they think, 32 countries. And she's going to get rid of them?…They are hoping and praying that Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States, because they'll take over not only that part of the world, they'll take over this country, they'll take over this part of the world. Believe me."— Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump offered a warning for voters considering backing Clinton: If she wins, he said, the terror group I.S. would take over the US. A day after proclaiming himself unshackled from GOP officials, Trump spent the majority of a campaign rally going full throttle against Clinton. Earlier this year, Trump asserted that Clinton and President Obama were the cofounders of I.S. — a claim from which he refused to back down and later clarified was intended as sarcasm. (Yahoo, Oct. 12, 2016)


“Obama’s radically reoriented foreign policy is in ruins. His vision was to move away from a world where stability and “the success of liberty” (JFK, inaugural address) were anchored by American power and move toward a world ruled by universal norms, mutual obligation, international law and multilateral institutions. No more cowboy adventures, no more unilateralism, no more Guantanamo. We would ascend to the higher moral plane of diplomacy. Clean hands, clear conscience, “smart power.” This blessed vision has just died a terrible death in Aleppo. Its unraveling was predicted and predictable, though it took fully two terms to unfold…“What is Aleppo?” famously asked Gary Johnson. Answer: the burial ground of the Obama fantasy of benign disengagement.” — Charles Krauthammer. (Washington Post, Oct. 6, 2016)






YOM KIPPUR SOLEMNITY MARRED BY VIOLENCE AND RIOTS (Jerusalem) — As Jews prayed on Yom Kippur, Arabs rioted. The alert status was high, as 3,500 policemen reinforced security in and around Jerusalem after a terror attack on Sunday. On Tuesday, Arabs attacked Israeli police with rocks and Molotov cocktails in Silwan, East Jerusalem. Palestinian sources reported one Arab man, Ali Atef Shuyukhi, was killed in the confrontation. Arabs also attacked Israeli Security forces in East Jerusalem and Issawiya, throwing Molotov cocktails and fireworks. (Breaking Israel News, Oct. 13, 2016)

TWO MURDERED, SIX WOUNDED IN JERUSALEM TERROR ATTACK (Jerusalem) — A Palestinian who was due to begin a prison term in Israel next week went on a shooting spree on Sunday, killing a pedestrian and a police officer in Jerusalem before being shot dead by police. The assailant, who Hamas said was a member of its organization, was shot dead in an exchange of fire with police. Medical officials said six people were wounded in the attack, and that two of them, a woman and a police officer, died in hospital. Police identified the assailant as a 39-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem. A spokeswoman for the Israel Prisons Service said the attacker had been ordered by a court to start a four-month jail sentence next week after being convicted of assaulting a police officer. (Breitbart, Oct. 9, 2016)


SHIN BET FOILS HAMAS SUICIDE BUS BOMBING IN JERUSALEM (Jerusalem) — An East Jerusalem man was indicted Tuesday for planning to carry out a suicide bombing on a bus in the capital, officials said. On September 9, the Shin Bet security service arrested alleged Hamas operative Muhammad Fuaz Ibrahim Julani, a resident of the Shuafat refugee camp, a few days before he planned to carry out his attack. Over the past few months, Julani, 22, had been planning to carry out a terror attack on behalf of Hamas, the Shin Bet said. (Times of Israel, Oct. 11, 2016)


UNESCO PASSES RESOLUTION DENYING JEWISH TIES TO JERUSALEM HOLY SITES (Paris) — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution denying Jewish connections to the Temple Mount and Western Wall. 24 UNESCO member states voted in favor of the resolution, 26 abstained, and six countries voted against. The proposal, put forth by the Palestinians, along with Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and Sudan, condemns Israel on several issues related to Jerusalem and its holy sites. The resolution acknowledges that the city of Jerusalem is holy to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity but says the Temple Mount holy site is sacred only to Muslims and fails to mention its significance to Jews. (I24, Oct. 13, 2016)


U.S. LAUNCHES AIRSTRIKES IN YEMEN IN RESPONSE TO SHIP ATTACK (Sana’a) — The U.S. military launched cruise missile strikes on Thursday to knock out three coastal radar sites in areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi forces, retaliating after failed missile attacks this week on a U.S. Navy destroyer. The strikes, authorized by President Obama, represent Washington's first direct military action against Houthi-controlled targets in Yemen. U.S. officials said U.S. Navy destroyer USS Nitze launched the Tomahawk cruise missiles. The missile attacks on the USS Mason — the latest of which took place on Wednesday — appeared to be the Houthis' response to a suspected Saudi-led strike on mourners gathered in Yemen's Houthi-held capital Sanaa. (CBC, Oct. 13, 2016)


BOB DYLAN AWARDED NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE (Stockholm)Bob Dylan was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday, in a stunning announcement that for the first time bestowed the prestigious award to someone primarily seen as a musician. The Swedish Academy cited the American musician for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Dylan, 75, had been mentioned in Nobel speculation for years, but few experts expected the academy to extend the prestigious award to a genre such as pop music. Robert Allen Zimmerman was born on May 24, 1941, to a Jewish family in small-town Minnesota. Both sets of his grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe. (Times of Israel, Oct. 13, 2016)




On Topic Links


A Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2016: Yoram Ettinger, Algemeiner, Oct. 10, 2016—1. Yom Kippur is a day of hope and optimism, in addition to a solemn day of soul-searching. The Day of Atonement provides a unique awareness of one’s own character and track record, as well as the opportunity to upgrade relationships with relatives, friends, associates and the community at-large.

A Peek Inside the IDF 8200's Combat Intelligence Unit: Israel Defense, Oct. 12, 2016 —They have been around for five years, operating without a name or insignia. They are the combat soldiers of the elite intelligence unit 8200. Although 8200 is better known for its glasses-wearing computer geniuses, this section of the unit helps to gather field intelligence for the elite combat units in the IDF – including Sayeret Matkal and Shayetet 13.

Meet the IDF’s ‘Beduin Battalion’: Seth J. Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 13, 2016—The jeep stops on a chalk-like dusty road, at an embankment that overlooks a dry riverbed. In front of us, to the northwest and spanning the gully, are two rows of metal fences. To their left, on a small hillock, is a concrete watchtower, a “pillbox,” as it’s called, harking back to World War II British Army nomenclature. A U-shaped concrete wall protects its base so that men entering and leaving are not exposed to gunfire.

Trump’s Moment of Truth: Editorial, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12, 2016 —Donald Trump has declared himself unshackled from the Republican Party and says he will now campaign as he’s wanted to all along. This raises the question of whose never-before-seen campaign he’s been running for 16 months, but so be it. The self-declared strategy has the virtue of putting the onus of victory or defeat squarely where it belongs: Mr. Trump and those who led him to the GOP nomination.





Latest Syria Setback Marks Five Years of Failure for Obama Administration: Kelly McParland, National Post, Oct. 4, 2016 — Sputnik International, a government-backed Russian “news” service, has soothing words for concerns about the ongoing carnage in Syria.

Obama's November Surprise: Gregg Roman, The Hill, Sept. 26, 2016 — There is growing speculation that President Obama will spring a diplomatic surprise on Israel during the interregnum between the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 and his departure from office in January.

Obama’s Hostile Eulogy: Caroline Glick, Breaking Israel News, Oct. 10, 2016 — US President Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres last Friday at Mt. Herzl was a thinly disguised assault on Israel. And he barely bothered to hide it.

Yom Kippur – How It Changes Us: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Sacks, Oct. 10, 2016— To those who fully open themselves to it, Yom Kippur is a life-transforming experience.


On Topic Links


Atoning for Sins on Yom Kippur: Dvora Waysman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 11, 2016

White House Silent: Palestinians Attack Jews Praying at Joseph's Tomb: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 2016

Congress Blasts Obama for Preparing Anti-Israel Offensive: Jenna Lifhits, Weekly Standard, Oct. 9, 2016

Barack Obama’s Stillborn Legacy: At Home and Abroad, the President's Agenda is in Tatters: Charles Krauthammer, New York Daily News, Oct. 6, 2016






Kelly McParland

National Post, Oct. 4, 2016


Sputnik International, a government-backed Russian “news” service, has soothing words for concerns about the ongoing carnage in Syria. The Putin government’s “limited military engagement” on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad “has helped to bring stability to several regions” of the country “and boost morale of the Syrian Arab Army,” it says. Russian involvement, it continues, quoting an “analyst,” “was instrumental in helping government-led forces and their local allies break the tide of the years-long war.”


While that view doesn’t accord with Western opinion, it should be no surprise if Moscow feels justified in applauding itself a year after launching its intervention. In just 12 months, President Vladimir Putin has managed to comprehensively outmaneouvre the U.S., reverse the momentum to Assad’s favour, embarrass Washington and increase its own influence in a region that seems perpetually engulfed in conflict.


Washington, meanwhile, has been reduced to spluttering objections and threats of unspecified “actions” if Moscow fails to rein in its activities. Fat chance of that. If the Obama administration has demonstrated anything over the five years — and half a million deaths — of the Syrian tragedy, it is its inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to fabricate a policy capable of ending the misery imposed on millions of Syrians. It has been outflanked at every step by a Russian government intent on flexing its military muscle and oblivious to the polite ways of diplomacy and international opinion.


Putin demonstrated this yet again when he met the latest complaints from Washington by shipping an advanced anti-missile system to Syria, the first time it has deployed the system outside its own borders. That followed accusations by Secretary of State John Kerry that Moscow had responded to a so-called ceasefire by stepping up bombing attacks on Aleppo, the besieged city that is systematically being reduced to rubble by Russian and Syrian forces.


A State Department spokesman on Tuesday warned that diplomatic efforts to end the fighting were “on life support.” A day later Kerry gave up on diplomacy and suspended talks with Moscow, while administration officials threatened unspecified “actions…that would further underscore the consequences of not coming back to the negotiating table.” Russia in turn halted a program with the U.S. on the disposal of weapons grade plutonium while threatening that a U.S. attack on Syrian targets “will lead to terrible, tectonic shifts not only on the territory of this country but also in the region in general.”


Such is the state of affairs as Obama enters his final weeks in office. Whatever else historians conclude about his legacy, his record in Syria must go down as an utter failure. Assad now has a very real chance of clinging to power, and perhaps even regaining significant areas of the country that had been lost to him before Russia’s arrival. U.S. actions have been so ineffectual it now finds itself with few options. It cannot intervene militarily, even if it had the will, without the danger of a direct clash with Moscow. Where once it had the opportunity to impose a no-fly zone to limit Assad’s assaults, it cannot do so now for fear of starting a shooting war with Russian jets.


Obama’s clear reluctance to get caught in another Middle East war has hobbled U.S. goals from the beginning. He drew his famous “red line” against chemical weapons, and then decided not to enforce it. He not only refused to commit substantial troops, but hesitated even to arm Assad’s opponents. Diplomatic efforts have gone in circles, first with failed United Nations efforts and more recently with Kerry’s futile shuttling from capital to capital. Relations with Turkey and Saudi Arabia have soured as the Obama administration dithered and delayed.


Humanitarian actions have been similarly half-hearted. An estimated 4.8 million Syrian refugees continue to seek international assistance, almost entirely from countries other than the U.S. In August the administration announced it had admitted its 10,000th Syrian, reaching a cruelly unambitious resettlement goal for the year. Canada, with a tenth the U.S. population, has accepted 30,000 Syrians, while Germany has accepted almost 900,000 and paid a heavy political price for a war it did nothing to start.


No matter who wins the U.S. election in November, they will be left with a shambles of a situation in Syria. Putin may be turning Russia into an “outlaw nation”, as the New York Times recently charged, but it’s an outlaw the U.S. has failed utterly to bring to justice, and shows limited interest in challenging.                             





OBAMA'S NOVEMBER SURPRISE                                                                                             

Gregg Roman                                                                                                        

The Hill, Sept. 26, 2016


There is growing speculation that President Obama will spring a diplomatic surprise on Israel during the interregnum between the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 and his departure from office in January. Some say the surprise will be a speech laying down parameters for a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute or some type of formal censure of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but the scenario generating most discussion is a decision to support, or perhaps not to veto, a UN Security Council resolution recognizing a Palestinian state.


This would be a bombshell. Washington's long-stated policy is that a Palestinian state should be established only through an agreement negotiated directly between the two sides. In practice, this would require that Palestinian leaders agreed to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and concede the so-called "right of return" for refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants to areas within Israel's borders, a prospect which would mean the demographic destruction of Israel.


For decades, Palestinian leaders have made it clear they won't do this: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas doesn't mince words, telling a gathering of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo in November 2014, "We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel." Efforts to win recognition of Palestinian statehood by foreign governments and multilateral institutions are designed to skirt this precondition for statehood.


Any state that comes into existence without Palestinian leaders formally recognizing Israel will be a brutal, unstable train wreck, with areas under its jurisdiction likely to remain a hotbed of terrorism. On top of whatever existing factors are producing the endemic corruption and autocracy of the Abbas regime (not to mention the Hamas regime in Gaza), unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state will vindicate radicals who have been saying all along that there's no need to compromise.


On the other hand, official Palestinian acknowledgement once and for all that Israel is not just here to stay, but has a right to stay, would deprive Palestinian leaders of time-honored tools for manipulating their constituents – appealing to and inflaming their baser anti-Jewish prejudices, promising them salvation if they'll only shut up 'til the Zionists are defeated, and so forth. Instead, they will have to do things like govern well and create jobs to win public support.


Previous American administrations have understood that recognizing Palestinian statehood before Abbas and company allow Palestinian society to undergo this transformation would be the height of irresponsibility. This is why American veto power has consistently blocked efforts to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state by way of the UN Security Council. Notwithstanding his apparent pro-Palestinian sympathies and affiliations prior to running for the Senate and later the White House, President Obama initially maintained this policy. The expressed threat of an American veto foiled Abbas' 2011 bid to win UN member-state status for "Palestine." He settled for recognition of non-member-state status by the General Assembly in 2012.


As moves by the PA to bring the issue of statehood to the UN picked up steam last year, however, it appeared to walk back this commitment. While U.S officials privately maintained there was "no change," Obama and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power refused – despite the urging of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid – to state publicly that the U.S. would use its veto to stop a resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood.


The conventional wisdom was that Obama's refusal to make such a public declaration was intended to exert pressure on Netanyahu to tone down his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, and later to punish him for it or hold it out to secure concessions. As his presidency enters its final months, it's clear something even more nefarious is at work.


President Obama's failure to clarify his administration's position has greatly damaged prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even if it is Obama's intention to veto any resolution on Palestinian statehood that comes up at the UN, his refusal to publicly state this – or, put differently, his determination to go on the record for the history books not saying it – has fueled perceptions among Palestinians and European governments facing pressures of their own that American will is softening.


It is imperative that Congress use the tools at its disposal to make this unwise path as difficult as possible for the Obama administration. Ultimately, a one-sided UN declaration such as this serves only to postpone by a long shot the day when Palestinian leaders accept Israel as it is – the homeland of the Jewish people – and allow their subjects to enjoy the lasting peace and prosperity they and their neighbors deserve.                                                     




OBAMA’S HOSTILE EULOGY                                                                                                     

Caroline Glick                                                                                                      

Breaking Israel News, Oct. 10, 2016


US President Barack Obama’s eulogy to Shimon Peres last Friday at Mt. Herzl was a thinly disguised assault on Israel. And he barely bothered to hide it. Throughout his remarks, Obama wielded Peres’s record like a baseball bat. He used it to club the Israeli public and its elected leaders over and over again. Peres, Obama intimated, was a prophet. But the suspicious, tribal people of Israel were too stiff necked to follow him.


In what was perhaps the low point of a low performance, Obama used Peres’s words to slander his domestic critics as racist oppressors. “Shimon,” he began harmlessly enough, “believed that Israel’s exceptionalism was rooted not only in fidelity to the Jewish people, but to the moral and ethical vision, the precepts of his Jewish faith.” Fair enough. You could say that about every Israeli leader since the dawn of modern Zionism.


But then Obama went for the jugular. In a startling non-sequitur he continued, “‘The Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people,’ he [Peres] would say, ‘From the very first day we were against slaves and masters.’” We don’t know the context in which Peres made that statement. But what is clear enough is that Obama used his words to accuse the majority of Israelis who do not share Peres’s vision for peace – including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who was sitting in the front row listening to him – of supporting slavery. This libelous assault on Israel was probably the most unhinged remark ever directed at the Jewish state by an American president. What does the fact that Obama said this at Peres’s funeral tell us about Obama? What does it tell us about Peres? Obama was not merely wrong when he accused Peres’s detractors of support for slavery, he was maliciously wrong.


Due to Peres’s Oslo accords, since 1995, all the Palestinian population centers in Judea and Samaria have been governed by the PLO. Israel hasn’t been in charge of any aspect of their daily civic existence. And they have only suffered as a result. Between 1967 and 1996, when the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria were governed by the military government, the Palestinians were free. They only became “enslaved,” when the PLO took over. Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians enjoyed far more expansive civil rights than they have since we left. The PLO transformed their lives into chaos by implementing the law of the jungle, enforced by mob-style militias. Their property rights were trampled. Their civil rights have been gutted.


The fact that PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas and his cronies delayed their municipal elections indefinitely the day after Peres’s funeral is yet another testament to the absence of freedom in the PLO – as opposed to Israeli – ruled areas. But really, Obama couldn’t care less. He didn’t come here to tell the truth about Peres. He came here to use Peres as a means to bludgeon the government the people elected. Obama began his attack as he often begins his political assaults on his opponents. He created a straw man. Peres’s critics on the Right, he said, “argued that he refused to see the true wickedness of the world, and called him naïve.” In other words, as far as Obama is concerned, Israelis are prisoners of their dark view of the world. Unlike Peres the optimist, his countrymen are tribal pessimists.


Peres, whose vision for peace rested on giving the outskirts of Tel Aviv and half of Jerusalem to terrorists wasn’t naïve. He “knew better than the cynic,” Obama continued. He was better than that. He was better than us. This brings us then to the paradox of Peres’s life’s work. Over last quarter century of his life, we, the people of Israel wanted to feel empowered by Peres’s superstar status. We wanted to get excited when Hollywood stars and A-list politicians came to his birthday bashes at the President’s House and the Peres Center. But every time we tried to see Peres’s success as our success, some visiting VIP would smile before the cameras and kick us in the shins.


The higher Peres’s star rose in the stratosphere of celebrity stardom, the worse Israel’s global position became. The international A-listers who showed up at all of Peres’s parties always seemed to view him as their guy, not our guy. He was one of them – and above the likes of us. How did this happen? How did the last surviving member of Israel’s founding generation become a prop for Israel’s chorus of international critics? The most extraordinary aspect of Peres’s long life is that he packed two full – and contradictory – careers into one lifespan.


Peres’s first career began with Israel’s founding. It ended with the Likud’s victory in the 1977 Knesset elections. Over the course of that career, Peres used his formidable diplomatic skills to build and strengthen Israel’s defenses. He cultivated and expanded complex strategic relationships with the French and British. Those ties led the two major powers to fight at Israel’s side in the 1956 Suez Campaign. They led to France’s decision to help Israel build its nuclear program and its arms industries.


In the 1970s as defense minister, Peres was able to rely on his warm ties to foreign leaders to shield the country as he established the Jewish communities in Samaria and Hebron. They empowered him to oversee the hostage rescue mission at Entebbe. But following the Likud’s rise to power, Peres changed gears. Ever since 1981 when he almost managed to scuttle the air force’s bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, Peres used his diplomatic talents and ties to foreign leaders to advance his own agenda, regardless of whether that agenda was aligned or contradicted Israel’s national agenda, as set out by its elected leaders.


Time and time again, on the backs of the public that failed to elect him and the politicians the public elected instead of him, Peres cultivated and used the relationships he enjoyed with foreign leaders to press his own policies. Each attempt to derail the policies of the government expanded Peres’s chorus of supporters abroad. Peres’s second career reached its high water mark in 1994 when along with Rabin and Yassir Arafat he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the Oslo process. The world embraced and celebrated Peres for his peace deal that brought neither peace nor security to his people…                                                 

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]          





Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Sacks, Oct. 10, 2016


To those who fully open themselves to it, Yom Kippur is a life-transforming experience. It tells us that God, who created the universe in love and forgiveness, reaches out to us in love and forgiveness, asking us to love and forgive others. God never asked us not to make mistakes. All He asks is that we acknowledge our mistakes, learn from them, grow through them, and make amends where we can. No religion has held such a high view of human possibility. The God who created us in His image, gave us freedom. We are not tainted by original sin, destined to fail, caught in the grip of an evil only divine grace can defeat. To the contrary we have within us the power to choose life. Together we have the power to change the world.


Nor are we, as some scientific materialists claim, mere concatenations of chemicals, a bundle of selfish genes blindly replicating themselves into the future. Our souls are more than our minds, our minds are more than our brains, and our brains are more than mere chemical impulses responding to stimuli. Human freedom – the freedom to choose to be better than we were – remains a mystery but it is not a mere given. Freedom is like a muscle and the more we exercise it, the stronger and healthier it becomes.


Judaism constantly asks us to exercise our freedom. To be a Jew is not to go with the flow, to be like everyone else, to follow the path of least resistance, to worship the conventional wisdom of the age. To the contrary, to be a Jew is to have the courage to live in a way that is not the way of everyone. Each time we eat, drink, pray or go to work, we are conscious of the demands our faith makes on us, to live God’s will and be one of His ambassadors to the world. Judaism always has been, perhaps always will be, counter-cultural.


In ages of collectivism, Jews emphasised the value of the individual. In ages of individualism, Jews built strong communities. When most of humanity was consigned to ignorance, Jews were highly literate. When others were building monuments and amphitheatres, Jews were building schools. In materialistic times they kept faith with the spiritual. In ages of poverty they practised tzedakah so that none would lack the essentials of a dignified life. The sages said that Abraham was called ha-ivri, “the Hebrew,” because all the world was on one side (ever echad) and Abraham on the other. To be a Jew is to swim against the current, challenging the idols of the age whatever the idol, whatever the age.


So, as our ancestors used to say, “’Zis schver zu zein a Yid,” It is not easy to be a Jew. But if Jews have contributed to the human heritage out of all proportion to our numbers, the explanation lies here. Those of whom great things are asked, become great – not because they are inherently better or more gifted than others but because they feel themselves challenged, summoned, to greatness.


Few religions have asked more of their followers. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. Jewish law applies to every aspect of our being, from the highest aspirations to the most prosaic details of quotidian life. Our library of sacred texts – Tanakh, Mishnah, Gemarra, Midrash, codes and commentaries – is so vast that no lifetime is long enough to master it. Theophrastus, a pupil of Aristotle, sought for a description that would explain to his fellow Greeks what Jews are. The answer he came up with was, “a nation of philosophers.”


So high does Judaism set the bar that it is inevitable that we should fall short time and again. Which means that forgiveness was written into the script from the beginning. God, said the sages, sought to create the world under the attribute of strict justice but He saw that it could not stand. What did He do? He added mercy to justice, compassion to retribution, forbearance to the strict rule of law. God forgives. Judaism is a religion, the world’s first, of forgiveness…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]


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Atoning for Sins on Yom Kippur: Dvora Waysman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 11, 2016—Freedom of choice is a basic Jewish doctrine from Genesis’s first story. “If you feel shame over having sinned, Heaven immediately forgives you.” These comforting words (Brachot 12B Hagiga 5A) are timely at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, but we should also remember what Mark Twain wrote: “Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to.”

White House Silent: Palestinians Attack Jews Praying at Joseph's Tomb: Editorial, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 2016—The US State Department’s recent condemnation of Israel’s proposed solution of the illegal Amona outpost issue unfortunately reiterates the erroneous view that “settlements are the core problem” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Worse, it contributes to the prolongation of the conflict by incorrectly invoking international law under the pretext of “evenhandedness” toward the parties involved.

Congress Blasts Obama for Preparing Anti-Israel Offensive: Jenna Lifhits, Weekly Standard, Oct. 9, 2016—The Obama administration is manufacturing a crisis with Israel in anticipation of a post-election diplomatic push targeting the Jewish state, and this past week launched a series of broadsides criticizing the Israelis through the media and in press briefings, according to congressional sources and Jewish-American officials who spoke to the Weekly Standard.

Barack Obama’s Stillborn Legacy: At Home and Abroad, the President's Agenda is in Tatters: Charles Krauthammer, New York Daily News, Oct. 6, 2016—Only amid the most bizarre, most tawdry, most addictive election campaign in memory could the real story of 2016 be so effectively obliterated, namely, that with just four months left in the Obama presidency, its two central pillars are collapsing before our eyes: domestically, its radical reform of American health care, aka Obamacare; and abroad, its radical reorientation of American foreign policy — disengagement marked by diplomacy and multilateralism.