Archive | Middle East Briefing

Recent wildfires called the ‘Arson Intifada’

Posted on 01 December 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — When we bought our apartment on the 10th floor of a new high-rise residential building in Tirat Carmel, less than a mile south of Israel’s port city of Haifa, we knew that the view from the north-facing balcony would be amazing.
About half a mile to the north we see Haifa, and its suburbs sprawling up the slopes of Mount Carmel.
A few hundred yards to the East we have a beautiful view of the Carmel Mountain range, sloping down to the edge of Tirat Carmel.
And best of all — just a few hundred yards to the west is the Mediterranean Sea that every evening blesses us with a stunning, bright red spectacle as the sun slowly sets into the water.
Yes, the view is amazing, but these past few days it was also frightening … we had front-row seats to what is now being called the “Arson Intifada.”
We watched as the wildfires wreaked havoc in the Haifa suburbs just 1,200 feet up the hills to our east. The flames, burning homes and trees alike, lit up the sky.
From time to time the strong, dry, nonstop winds from the east blew sparks down the hillside in our general direction, setting a few trees and bushes on fire on the mountainside. Within minutes two firefighting planes swooped in dumping seawater and red fire-retardant chemicals, extinguishing the fires and soaking the surrounding area.
Since the wind was blowing to the northwest, away from our building, we were never really in danger.
But not everyone in the area was so lucky. As the wind-driven flames got nearer to the beautiful and heavily populated hilltop suburbs, the police ordered “immediate” evacuation of more than 70,000 residents from 11 neighborhoods, including Danya, Romema and Ramat Sapir. Whole families ran to escape the fires with literally nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Police and firefighters then risked their lives to make sure no one remained, and to personally evacuate invalid residents of a retirement home, just minutes ahead of the flames.
The good news is that as of this writing, thanks to the amazing efforts of the Israeli police, firefighters and IDF soldiers, there has been no loss of life and minimum injuries.
The sad news is that many of those who evacuated returned yesterday and today only to find that their homes and all their belongings, including pictures, computers, furniture and clothing are gone.
In a preliminary report, Haifa city officials said yesterday that the fire damaged between 600 and 700 homes, leaving over 527 uninhabitable and 37 completely destroyed.
But the fires were widespread around the country. While the Carmel fire was the biggest, simultaneous blazes broke out around the country over a 48-hour period, with extensive loss of property and afforestation in Judea and Samaria, the road to Jerusalem, and the Galilee.
So how did it happen?
More than any other month, November has always been prone to fires in Israel. It’s when the strong, warm and dry wind from the east (known as the “Sharqia”) blows across the country. Since this year the rains are late, the forests and fields are bone-dry — creating perfect conditions for wildfires.
To start a deadly fire, all a terrorist has to do is set fire to some brush to the east of a forest and/or community and let the wind take over. As of right now, the police and fire departments have determined that at least 30 percent of all the fires over the past five days were started on purpose with the intent to cause as much death and destruction as possible.
It’s not yet clear if this was organized and/or whether it was incited on social media. 37 suspects have been detained on suspicion of arson or incitement (Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and one Israeli Jew).
Here is the latest summary as of this writing:

  • 650 fires; at least 1/3 suspected as arson
  • 2,500 firefighters involved, including 12 from the Palestinian Authority and 69 from Cyprus
  • 3,000 IDF soldiers committed
  • Firefighting aircraft from Israel, Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and the United States used
  • 1.5 million tons of seawater and retardant dropped during 480 sorties.
  • Over 560 buildings destroyed
  • 1,600 people left homeless
  • Zero casualties
  • 133 injured (one seriously)

Will the fires continue next week? Now that might need a miracle since:

  • The Sharqia wind is dying down and shifting
  • The forecast for later this week calls for heavy showers all over

Will this be an ongoing new phase in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
I doubt it:

  • 1. Israeli authorities now suspect that some of the fires may have been of criminal origin and only a few linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • 2. The Palestinian leadership has come out strongly against arson that destroys “their” homeland.
  • 3. They sent four manned fire-engines to assist.
  • 4. Social media is heavily monitored here with good cooperation between Israel and the PA.
  • 5. Israel has made it clear that the maximum punishment for arson without casualties is 20 years.

There still may be a few outbreaks, but I think that we’ve seen the last of this “Arson Intifada” … at least until next November.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF reserve) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Middle East’s responses to Trump victory varied

Posted on 17 November 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — Initial reactions in the Middle East to Donald Trump’s election have ranged from positive and cautiously optimistic (Israel, Egypt, Jordan, parts of the Saudi family, the United Arab Emirates, etc.), to outright disbelief and borderline panic (Iran, Qatar, parts of the Saudi family, the Palestinians, Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.).
Most analysts attribute the reactions to two main factors:
1. Statements made by candidate Trump during the campaign about support for Israel, on the one hand, and possible U.S. isolationism, on the other.
2. A widespread belief throughout the Muslim world that a president Clinton would be “very sympathetic” to their interests, causes and business affairs thanks to exceptionally large donations to the Clinton Family Foundation, and the fact that Huma Abedin, who grew up in Saudi Arabia and has close ties family to the Muslim Brotherhood, would have had unfettered access and influence in the Oval Office.
As Trump’s inner circle begins to take shape the Israelis are happy with his assumed choice for Ambassador to Israel — his senior advisor David Friedman, who said in an interview this week that: “Trump believes that everyone in Israel — from people on the right to people on the left — want peace. No one wants their children to continue to be killed in wars,” adding that in any negotiations, with the Palestinians: “Trump will let Israel lead … he won’t force Israel.”
And while there is initial concern with the choice of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist because of alleged past anti-Semitic comments, commentators here observe that though he is a strong supporter of Israel, he will be involved mainly in domestic policy (“draining the swamp”). Trump said that Bannon and Reince Priebus (incoming chief of staff) would work “as equal partners to transform the federal government.”
Trump’s possible foreign policy doctrine, especially regarding the Middle East, is a mixed bag. I tend to agree with senior analyst Ron Ben Yishai, who wrote this week in Ynet that “Trump and the Russians will agree to fight the Islamic State together, but Trump will let the Russians help Bashar Assad win.
This means that the radical Shiite axis led by Iran, with Russian aid and defense, will tighten its grip and its strategic abilities in the Middle East in general, and particularly in the ‘Shiite spectrum.’ This is very bad for the State of Israel and it is also bad for the Arab Gulf states (which supported Clinton).”
Regarding Iran, Trump will probably not cancel the nuclear agreement. However over here they feel strongly that it’s possible that he will accept Israel’s requests to tighten the intelligence supervision on Iran and to respond to any violation on its part with serious sanctions and/or military action.
According to Ben Yishai, the Trump administration and Congress will “also generously accept Israel’s arming requests so that the IDF would be able to respond with all its might in case Iran makes a breakthrough toward a nuclear bomb.”
As for the “peace talks,” analysts here agree that, the two-state-for-two-people formula will likely enter a deep freeze for a long time, at least until there is a leadership change with the Palestinians. As I mentioned above, Trump will probably not try to impose any solution or even peace negotiations, certainly not based on Israeli concessions only.
As of this writing, we’re still waiting to find out who the Secretary of State will be, and if that person will have the skills to re-establish respect for, and confidence in the United States as a world leader to be trusted and respected in a very volatile Middle East…
I hope so.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Don’t take bait: Reclaiming Mosul won’t end ISIS

Posted on 03 November 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — As I write this column Tuesday about 9 a.m. Dallas time, I’m watching reports from European and Middle East sources about the beginning of the attack to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS.
Under heavy American air strikes on targets in and around the city, some 15,000 elite Iraqi troops, together with U.S. trained Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Turkish forces have started to enter the city from the north and east.
The U.S. military estimates ISIS has up to 5,000 fighters inside Mosul and between 1,500 and 2,500 in a defensive belt around the city.
Both the city and periphery have been heavily fortified since ISIS captured it two and a half years ago. Networks of hidden tunnels crisscross Mosul and many buildings, schools and hospitals have been mined and booby-trapped.
Hundreds of the estimated 1.5 million remaining inhabitants have been locked in booby-trapped buildings that either will be hit by American air strikes or coalition artillery, or will be blown up by ISIS blaming the U.S. for the carnage. Hundreds of others were bused in from the periphery just yesterday and forced to sit in cages and enclosures in city squares as human shields.
Local media report that one day after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appeared on state TV to order ISIS or the Islamic State to give up its positions, troops opened fire with artillery, tanks and machine guns on the ISIS positions on the edge of the city.
“They have no choice. Either they surrender or they die,” Abadi said.
The ISIS fighters responded with guided anti-tank missiles and small arms to block the anti-ISIS coalition’s advance Tuesday.
Interestingly, today the Iraqi satellite TV network, Al Sumaria, reported that ISIS suddenly stopped referring to Mosul as the capital of its caliphate through its news media outlets, probably to minimize public perceptions about the imminent “liberation” of Mosul.
Abadi, a Shiite and Iranian puppet, dressed up in military uniform and promised that in the battle for Mosul they will “eliminate” the ISIS leadership.
It’s known that ISIS head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has spent most of the past two years in Mosul but there is some info that he recently fled to Syria and is probably hiding in the other ISIS “capital,” Rakah.
There are also persistent rumors that he may have been fatally poisoned recently and is being kept in the fridge … to surface as a burned and mangled holy martyr in the aftermath of a U.S. strike.
But anybody who thinks that killing al-Baghdadi and thousands of his fighters will destroy ISIS is suffering from the same naïve delusion that argued that killing Osama bin Laden would destroy al-Qaida.
Just like al-Qaida today is stronger, bigger, smarter, better equipped and more dangerous to the world than it was eight years ago, ISIS after al-Baghdadi’s demise will regroup, rebrand and continue to use social media to recruit new volunteer martyrs to attack U.S. interests and citizens worldwide. It’s an intoxicating ideological adventure that cannot be stopped by merely taking back cities or killing its leaders.
I’m sure that if collateral damage is kept reasonably low, there will be a political victory lap in Washington after Mosul is retaken from ISIS. As will no doubt happen if Rakah is liberated.
I just hope that nobody crows that “ISIS is destroyed!” That would be disingenuous, deceitful and misleading … no matter what was promised!
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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I’ll get back to hard news … after the holidays

Posted on 20 October 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — After months of preparation, the Iraqi military, together with the U.S., Kurdish fighters, Shiite militias and the more than tacit cooperation of Iran, have started the long awaited operation to kick ISIS out of the second largest city in Iraq — Mosul. ISIS has held Mosul for the past two years, mostly enjoying the support of its Sunni majority population, and preparing it for just such an attack.
But I’m not going to talk about Mosul today.
In the meantime, the U.S. presidential campaign is getting more and more ugly. But I’m not going to talk about that today either, even though here in Israel it’s the only topic people want to talk to me about.
This column is about a phenomena so singular and unique that it can only happen in one country in the world — Israel.
Example – I don’t know of any other country where for 24 hours, it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle on any street or road, whether an unpaved street in an Arab village or Jewish kibbutz, the main arteries in cities and towns or the modern highways between Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Beer-Sheva, Elat, etc.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The phenomena is called “the Holidays,” and it’s the only time in the year where there is a cluster of major Jewish holidays, with different customs, that throws everyday life and routines into total organized chaos for three weeks.
As summer slowly draws to a close, you can sense a change of atmosphere and urgency that grows by the day. Schools start, but students only go for a few days a week.
The most common phrase you hear is “after the holidays,” meaning: because these are short weeks, and the weather is too nice to waste, let’s deal with this later.
I belong to the majority of Israeli Jews that define ourselves as “secular traditional,” meaning we don’t wear yarmulkes, don’t keep kosher, we drive on Saturday, stock up with frozen pita for Passover, and have no idea where the local synagogue is. Nevertheless, we celebrate Shabbat and the holidays in our own family traditions.
The first holiday was Rosh Hashanah. We celebrated it by having a big family dinner the evening before, explaining the various traditions to our grandkids and their friends (who took turns getting red in the face trying to blow my shofar). Next morning few Israelis went to synagogue (which is free here). Most got up early and headed to the National Parks, which were packed. We spent the day at the beach.
Ten days of shopping and wishing everyone (whether you knew them or not) an “easy fast,” and that they’re fate be sealed in the “right” book, brought us to Yom Kippur.
Another big family dinner …and then things got really unique … and very Israeli.
At about 6:30 p.m. all TV and radio stations went off the air. But you don’t turn off the sets. You leave them on and tuned to several TV and radio stations that go into “quiet mode.” Nothing will be broadcast until Yom Kippur ends … or Israel is attacked, in which case the broadcasts will start simultaneously with the countrywide air-raid sirens.
Around the same time all motor vehicle traffic on the roads, highways, streets and alleyways in Israel gradually draws to a stop as the last family members rush to get home.
Nobody … Jew, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Baha’i, atheist, Israeli, tourist, diplomat, king, friend or foe is allowed by law to drive on any road in Israel for 24 hours (unless Israel is at war). The only rare exceptions are ambulances, police and security vehicles with lights flashing.
And kids. With all the roads empty, by 7 p.m. thousands of children, teenagers and a few adults grabbed their bicycles, rollerblades and scooters and headed for the highways.
About 90 percent of all new bikes in Israel are sold in the weeks before Yom Kippur. That’s when I got my first new bike at age 10.
It’s surreal. Imagine you are standing in the middle of the day on the High Five overpass looking toward Central Expressway and LBJ and there is not one car on the roads. But hundreds of youngsters on bicycles are having fun peddling between Dallas and Richardson and beyond.
As for the holiness of the day, some Israelis fast or partially fast. But even those who don’t fast tend to mingle around local synagogues at the end of the day to hear the shofar blowing from the windows.
As Yom Kippur ended we built a Sukkah and two days later sat down in it for another big family dinner, and a weeklong holiday.
Believe me I’m all for tradition, and we and our extended family here had a lot of fun. But I can’t wait to get back to writing and briefing on less festive issues like Mosul, Iran, U.S. and Israeli politics, etc.
And I will…right “after the holidays.”
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is President and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Why US-Israel military aid package is big deal

Posted on 22 September 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — This week the U.S. and Israel signed a renewal of the MOU, or The Memorandum of Understanding, which is a 10-year defense aid package that “constitutes the single largest pledge of bilateral military assistance in U.S. history,” the State Department said Tuesday.
The $38 billion deal, scheduled to be signed this week in a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, replaces the previous $30 billion MOU that expires in 2018.
With the new aid package Israel will receive $3.8 billion annually — up from $3 billion — starting in 2019 and through 2028.
Unlike with the current MOU, Israel has pledged not to seek additional add-on military funding from Congress for the next decade, except in time of war.
The agreement also limits Israel’s current ability to spend part of the funds on its own arms industry — a key area of dispute during talks. Washington wanted Israel to spend a larger amount of the money on American-made products, creating more jobs in the U.S., while Israel wanted to feed its own “hungry tigers.”
Currently, Israel can spend 26.3 percent of U.S. military aid buying from its own domestic defense companies.
Earlier reports said that Israel had asked for a separate, $400 million deal for missile defense spending — which could have raised the total amount to more than $4 billion annually. The U.S. said no.
“There was no higher figure ever discussed,” the former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror said Tuesday, describing the deal as “the best possible” accord.
So why do I consider this to be such a big deal? Mainly because:

  • As mentioned above — it’s the largest bilateral military aid package granted by one country to another in history.
    It comes at a time when the U.S. economy is a hot and contentious election issue, and when the U.S. is cutting painfully into its own defense spending on development, procurement and maintenance.
  • It shows that the mutually beneficial relations between the U.S. and Israel on issues of security, regional stability, trust and co-reliance are as strong as ever.
  • It shows other Mideast and World players that the U.S. is fully and unequivocally committed to the security and safety of Israel …not just in word.
  • Its updated clauses on expanding existing agreements on military pre-positioning in Israel reaffirm General Alexander Haig’s famous observation that: “Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security.”

As the Times of Israel pointed out in an article Sunday: “The aid package is seen in Israel as key to helping it maintain its qualitative military edge over potential threats in the region, including from an emboldened Iran flush with cash after many nuclear-related sanctions were ended over the past year in a deal signed with world powers.”
So despite arguments by frustrated politicians or wannabe analysts that Israel could have negotiated a better deal, I think that this is a good deal that will benefit both Israel and the U.S. in the decade to come.
Kudos to the American and Israeli leaders that waded through disagreements, personality issues, political pressure and economic restrictions to reach this (to paraphrase Joe Biden) “(expletive) Big Deal.”
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Is America safer 15 years after 9/11?

Posted on 08 September 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — In three days the world will be commemorating the worst single terrorist attack in history — the Sept. 11, 2001 coordinated strikes by al-Qaida against the U.S., using four hijacked American passenger jetliners. The attacks killed 2,996 people and injured over 6,000 more, causing some $10 billion in property damage and at least $3 trillion in total costs.
Around the world many will hold memorial services, while others will celebrate the unprecedented “historical victory” against the country and nation that the Muslim Brotherhood has singled out as the No. 1 enemy of radical, jihadi Islamism, the world’s only “Great Satan” — the USA.
But 15 years later are the U.S., Israel, Europe and pro-Western Muslim countries safer? Have governments learned enough about the culture of Islamic jihadism to prevent the next 9/11?
Do we understand the psychology, religious fervor, sexual incentives, promises of eternal glory and huge wealth for themselves and their close family members, that turn normative, secular, social Web-savvy teenagers into passionate, death-obsessed suicide bombers?
Even if we did, acting on that knowledge would be almost impossible in today’s “politically correct” world. You can’t defeat an enemy you refuse to name because you may “offend” non-jihadi Muslims.
Well — the German Nazis tortured and murdered 6 million of our people, including most of my wife’s family … and I’m sorry if I just offended a lot of Germans whose families had no Nazi connection. The Nazis were Germans and were the enemy to be destroyed then.

A growing concern

Today’s enemy is radical Muslim extremists … and their growing ranks of followers.
But even identifying the enemy will not prevent the next 9/11. France and Turkey have been openly and aggressively fighting Islamic jihadists for decades, with considerable success, often using methods that would make many Americans cringe. Yet this has not stopped recent ISIS-inspired multi-casualty terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice, Istanbul airport and a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep last month.
You have to understand the fundamental ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood that fuels, inspires and drives ISIS, al-Qaida, Hamas, Taliban, Islamic Jihad and all the other Sunni terrorist organizations: The United States must be destroyed from within through economic and mass casualty terrorism that causes ongoing unrest and a breakdown of law and order. This, according to the MB leadership, will cause the collapse of the world’s economic structure, enabling global “Islam is the solution” to take over.

Understanding the enemy

President Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt gets it. He’s arrested the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood including the “Supreme Guide” Mahmoud al-Badai and former president Muhammad Morsi, both of whom have been sentenced to death in court.
But the U.S. has a problem. Bombing a few ISIS bases and even killing some of its leaders will not stop the next 9/11. Working with the Egyptians, Jordanians, parts of the Saudi family and other like-minded Muslim leaders to eradicate “with extreme prejudice” the Muslim Brotherhood nerve centers around the world (including in the U.S.…!) may … just may delay it.

Deadly commitment to mission

But I’m not optimistic. Many believe that the next 9/11 is already beyond the planning stages in at least two highly capable, fully motivated and well-funded Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated terrorist groups: Al-Qaida and ISIS. They seem to be competing in projected casualty numbers for their respective upcoming attacks on the U.S.
And some of their spokesmen are hinting that they may include nuclear weapons … probably a dirty bomb … to enhance the numbers and the panic factor.
So 15 years later, are we safer against a similar strike?
Sure, targets have been hardened and measures taken. But we are dealing with an absolutely committed anti-American and anti-Israel fervent religious ideology that embraces death.
So my analysis would have to be … no, we are still vulnerable. This time they probably won’t use airliners. Just look at the death and destruction ISIS did with explosive trucks in Syria this week.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Serious Middle East news … or political backdrop?

Posted on 25 August 2016 by admin

HAIFA, Israel — After just over four weeks in Israel, I can categorically state that I have totally OD’d on the two news stories that seem to be on every local and international station or online news website I go to: the Rio Olympic games (locally), and the U.S. presidential race (worldwide).
Thankfully, the former ended this week. But the election coverage will continue and only increase as we get nearer to Nov. 8.
My problem is the endless stream of talking heads and “experts” (usually a former politician, campaign staffers from both parties, a retired military officer, two journalists — from the left and the right — and a scholarly professor who has a formula that can predict the results), that pop up on multiple stations. Within one minute it’s easy to know which candidate the station supports. And since it’s the same talking heads, regurgitating the same data and story-of-day, it gets pretty boring pretty quickly.
I was hoping to find fresh faces and analysis from my usually trustworthy stand-by news sources like Fox, CNN, SKY (England), Sputnik (Russia), PressTV (Iran), and even Al-Jazeera USA (online), but to my surprise (or not…) they all had more or less the same talking heads with the same rudimentary and predictable partisan talking points.
But the horrific terrorist attack in Turkey on Sunday, where a young boy of 12, recruited by Daesh (ISIS), blew himself up at a Kurdish wedding in the Southeastern city of Gaziantep, killing 51 celebrants and wounding dozens more, snapped me back to the reality of the Middle East.
Here are some of the news stories you may have missed. One has a possible connection to the elections.

Turkey and Israel

Last Saturday, Turkey’s parliament approved a reconciliation agreement signed with Israel in June, ending the six-year rift between the two regional powers over the Marvi Marmara boarding incident. Both countries will reappoint ambassadors, and military and commercial ties (which were never really disconnected) will be “re-established.”

Turkey and the United States

Scheduled before Saturday’s Islamist terrorist attack on Aug. 24, Vice President Joe Biden is visiting Turkey for meetings with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. This is the first visit by a high-ranking U.S. official since the failed coup attempt in July. While the ongoing war against ISIS will no doubt be high on the agenda now, I understand that the main reason for the visit was to discuss the deterioration in U.S.-Turkey relations, and the delicate subject of extraditing fanatical Sunni cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Erdogan accuses of organizing the failed coup.
Also on the agenda will probably be the recent request from Erdogan’s new “best friend” Vladimir Putin to use Turkey’s air force base at Incirlik for bombing raids against anti-Assad Arab and Kurdish rebels in Syria (in addition to the bases Russia is already using in Iran).
This could be a major humiliation to the U.S. if Erdogan agrees to the request, since:

  1. The base was built by the U.S. for the American and Turkish air forces.
  2. It’s the main U.S. “coalition” and NATO staging area for airstrikes and rescue missions in Syria, Iraq and potentially Iran.
  3. The U.S. stockpiles over 50 B-61 thermonuclear (hydrogen) bombs at Incirlik.
  4. Putin is supporting the forces the U.S. is fighting (Assad).
  5. Turkey is fighting the Kurds that the U.S. is supporting.
  6. Russia and Iran are developing close military relations, etc.

So if this is such an important tactical and strategic issue for the safety and security of the United States and Israel, am I the only one that’s wondering why Vice President Biden is going to try to thwart it? Especially after Turkey’s Prime Minister Yildirim said Saturday that he sees no reason why Russia and the U.S. can’t “share” the base.
Why Biden? Such a high-level meeting would not be held unless the outcome is known and agreed on in advance. If failure, then the meeting would be canceled in advance and further staff-level negotiations would probably be held. If successful, then the president, not the VP, should be in the limelight at the photo-op. Unless…
I have a wild theory. Could it be that Joe Biden is the understudy who is being prepared to stand in at the last moment as the Democrats’ presidential candidate if hypothetically the position becomes available, and that this whistle-stop trip to the Middle East where he is meeting key leaders very briefly is for the photos to support his international “credentials” with voters? I said it was a wild theory…
Could be serious news, could be political backdrop, or could be both.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org.Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Iran nuclear ‘deal,’ 1 short year later

Posted on 28 July 2016 by admin

SARASOTA — Exactly two weeks ago, July 14, the world hardly noticed that a year had gone by since the announcement that the P5+1 negotiation team (USA, Great Britain, Russia, China, France and Germany) had reached a “deal” with Iran.
We were told by the Obama administration that the “JCPOA” (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) was guaranteed to prevent Iran from building or acquiring nuclear weapons for at least 15 years by “blocking all pathways” to achieving this. We were told that the world is “safer.”
I was skeptical. After reading the published U.S. version of the JCPOA on the State Department website, which is different from the Iranian one, and learning about “secret letters” exchanged between the U.S. and Iranian negotiators, I came to the conclusion that it was a bad deal and wrote the following in this column a year ago:
My personal negative opinion was confirmed during John Kerry’s Congressional testimony, when new elements and “secret understandings” were disclosed, and was reinforced by statements from Iranian leaders after the May 14 announcement. Here are just a few of them:
The agreement is not, and never will be, signed. This is why the U.S. rushed to get it “approved” by the United Nations Security Council, thus giving a purely verbal “understanding” some pretense of legitimacy.
The promise of “robust anytime, anywhere inspections” is gone.
Iran keeps its already enriched stockpiles and bomb parts.
All military facilities, including the trigger and bomb-assembly plant in Parchin, are off limits to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
All facilities are off limits to Americans.
All centrifuges remain intact though a few thousand will be temporarily unplugged.
With Russia, China and the Europeans already signing huge deals and with Russia accepting the soon-to-be-freed $150 billion as loan collateral, the sanctions no longer exist, and cannot be “snapped back.”
But the most shocking revelation was that Kerry apparently accepted the Iranian negotiators’ “solemn word and guarantee” that Iran: “Never had in the past, does not have in the present, or plans to have in the future … any nuclear weapons development or acquisition plan.” Seriously? The whole unsigned verbal agreement is based on the “solemn word” of the Iranians?
As the Iranian leadership ecstatically tells mass rallies that chant “death to America and Israel,” just how easily they led on and hoodwinked a naïve president who was so desperate for a deal at any cost that he gave them everything they wanted without them conceding anything, regional leaders are listening with growing contempt, mistrust and lack of respect for the U.S.
That was then…
Today, one year after the much-heralded, and still unsigned, so-called “Iran Nuke Deal” was announced, the U.N.’s IAEA and the intelligence agencies of the P5+1 countries admit that they have no knowledge as to what nuclear weapons development Iran did in the past (which it is obligated to disclose), nor what it has today or what it’s secretly working on.
Despite getting almost full sanctions relief, Iran has violated the JCPOA (and U.N. Security Council resolutions) several times. Its leaders still demonize the West, vow to destroy Israel within the year and are building and testing long-range nuke bomb delivery systems with impunity. The head of Iran’s nuclear program announced last week the installation of cascades of the latest “Generation 5” ultra-fast centrifuges.
Meanwhile the U.S., the “guarantor” of Iranian compliance to the JCPOA, is seen by the Sunni Gulf States (and many Israelis) as being either afraid to confront Iran (which would expose the bluff of the “deal”), or worse, being in bed with the Iranians from the outset.
So here is my one-year cheat-sheet summary of the Iran Nuke Deal:
I believe that today:
Iran is not significantly farther from the “breakout” time frame that former IAEA chief nuclear inspector David Albright determined a year and a half ago — three to six months from decision to bomb.
With the new centrifuges that time frame will be shortened considerably.
Iran is expanding its military capabilities in preparation for war against Saudi Arabia, Turkey … or both.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the failed coup in Turkey is the publication of the fact that 90 B-61 thermonuclear bombs are stored in Turkey at the Incirlik Air Base, 40 of which are allocated for use by the Turkish Air Force. With the Sunni Turks and Shiite Iranians natural and historic enemies, that are currently fighting on opposite sides in Syria, the fact that this “deal” did not eliminate the Iranian nuclear program just adds to the regional instability.
Contrary to its obligations in the JCPOA, Iran continues to support Islamist terrorism around the world.
Iran continues to threaten Israel with imminent annihilation.
And finally, together with America’s shamefully reneged “red line” threat in Syria and its failure to fulfill promises to “degrade and destroy” ISIS and al-Qaida (which is now stronger than ever after bin Laden’s demise), this “deal” has contributed greatly to the deterioration of America’s image, prestige and respect in the Middle East. Over the past year, Iranian leaders, artists, teachers and entertainers have been mocking American negotiation “skills,” while Sunni Arab leaders and opinion makers have been openly calling for stronger ties to Russia, China, Japan, India and even Israel … because the U.S. can’t be trusted to fulfill its promises or commitments … ouch!
Bottom line: The JCPA, the Iran Nuke Deal, which is still unsigned, was a bad deal then, and is a bad deal now, one year later.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Won’t be lacking for content while in Israel

Posted on 14 July 2016 by admin

DALLAS — Notice the dateline on this update? A ‘dateline” tells the reader when and where the article was written.
As most of you already know, I’m moving back to Israel in a few weeks. Therefore, this will be my last update datelined “Dallas.” Future articles and updates will be datelined as appropriate.
And I’ll certainly have a lot to report. While in the past few months here in the U.S. we’ve been preoccupied with politics, ongoing violence (including the tragic attack on Dallas and DART police officers), the economy, Brexit (British exit from the European Union), more politics, criminal investigations, terrorism threats, immigration and even more politics … the rest of the world, and especially the Middle East, has generated events and news stories that will have major impacts on the U.S. and Israel.
Here is a taste:

Israel: Netanyahu’s busy week

Affirming the ongoing relations with Cairo, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Israel this week for a series of meetings. This is the first official visit by a high-ranking Egyptian official in nine years. It’s hoped that this visit may lead to a possibility of restarting the peace process based on a new initiative of President Sisi, together with a more open thawing of Israeli relations with other Sunni Arab countries.
Last week Netanyahu, as prime minister and acting foreign minister ,visited several African countries including Uganda, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Israeli raid on Entebbe (where his brother, Yoni, was killed); Kenya; Rwanda; and Ethiopia.
Israel also signed a new friendship treaty with Turkey that restored relations to the way they were before the Mavi Marmara incident.
Oh … and Israeli media reported that the attorney general was investigating Netanyahu on suspicion of some serious money laundering.

Iran: Complete failure of ‘deal’

One year after the much-heralded, and still unsigned, so-called “Iran Nuclear Deal” (JCPOA — Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action), the U.N. watchdog IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and the intelligence agencies of the P5+1 countries still admit that they have no clue as to what nuclear weapons development Iran did in the past, nor what it still has and what it’s working on today.
Despite getting almost full sanctions relief, Iran has violated the JCPOA (and U.N. Security Council resolutions) several times. Its leaders still demonize the West, vow to destroy Israel within the year and are building and testing long-range nuclear bomb delivery systems with impunity.
Meanwhile the U.S., the “guarantor” of Iranian compliance to the JCPOA, is seen by the Sunni gulf states and many Israelis as being either afraid to confront Iran (which would expose the bluff of the “deal”), or worse, being in bed with the Iranians from the outset.

Syria: Fighting continues — after 5 years, over 400,000 dead

Assad’s Alawite (Shiite) regime is still strongly supported by Russia and Iran.
Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, seeking to counter the influence of its rival Iran, has been a major provider of military and financial assistance to the rebels, including those with extreme Islamist ideologies.
Turkey, another staunch supporter of the rebels, wants to end U.S. support for Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in northern Syria, accusing them of being part of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The U.S., which says President Assad is responsible for widespread atrocities and must step down, has provided only limited military assistance to “moderate” rebels, in addition to limited airstrikes.

Iraq: Military pushes ISIS

The Shiite-led, Iran-affiliated government forces have, with considerable U.S. military assistance (what’s wrong with this picture?), succeeded in retaking the city of Fallujah from ISIS, and are now preparing to try to retake Mosul … but probably not anytime soon.
ISIS: Not “degraded,” not “destroyed.”
Lost territory in Syria and Iraq but remains a formidable and well-equipped fighting force with demonstrated worldwide terrorism capabilities, and a growing esteem among young, alienated Sunnis around the globe.
And I haven’t even touched on the continued growth of al-Qaida, with this week’s threat of revenge against the U.S. by Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, who declared: “We will continue striking you and targeting you in your country and abroad in response to your oppression of the people of Palestine, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and the rest of the Muslim lands that did not survive your oppression.”
With all that, plus other Middle East developments and, of course, the U.S. elections, there will be plenty to write about, talk about, Skype about and podcast about from Dateline: Israel.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

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Giving Lieberman benefit of doubt — for now

Posted on 02 June 2016 by admin

When the announcement came out last week that Lt. Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon had resigned from his political positions as Israel’s Minister of Defense and Member of Knesset from the Likud party, no one was really surprised.
His relations with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu had been bumpy from the beginning. Ya’alon, a decorated combat officer who rose to the highest rank possible in the IDF and finished his career as its Commander in Chief, had a hard time taking orders from a career politician whose service in the IDF, as a captain in an elite unit, was respectable, if unremarkable.
Bibi, on the other hand, didn’t appreciate the perceived patronizing by his higher-ranking, more experienced and sometimes a bit too outspoken subordinate.
The final straw came last month over two statements Ya’alon made. Bibi essentially gave him the option to resign or be fired. He “resigned.” That was not surprising.
What raised eyebrows, rolled eyes and sent pundits everywhere except in Israel into highly caffeinated hand-wringing angst, was the immediate offer of the job to Avigdor Lieberman.
The Israelis knew that on the one hand,  Bibi had no choice, and on the other — it could have been worse. I’ll try to explain:
While in the United States the executive and legislative branches — federally, statewide and locally — draw their power and authority from the voting public directly, in Israel the executive branch (prime minister, ministers, etc.) is instated and empowered by the Knesset, both individually and collectively.
Israel has a democratic system of proportionate representation. Voters for the Knesset cast ballots for a party — not an individual candidate. The parties are competing for the 120 seats in the Knesset.
After an election, all valid votes are counted and the Knesset seats are allocated proportionately to the number of votes each party received. If Party A received 30 percent of the votes, it will get 30 percent of the 120 seats: 36 seats or Members of Knesset (MKs). Once allocated, the new MKs are sworn in.
In order to form or maintain a government, a party has to receive a vote of confidence from at least half of the sitting MKs+1 = 61. Anything less and the government will not be confirmed or will fall.
Since no party in Israel’s 68 years of history has ever received 61 seats in an election, every prime minister candidate has had to cobble together a coalition of several parties, and for the next few years try to keep everyone in their coalition happy …
After the last election Bibi formed a coalition with a razor-thin majority of 61. Ya’alon’s resignation of his Knesset seat left the coalition under the threat of losing a no-confidence vote at any time. Bibi had to act fast to stay in power:
First he tried to get the center-left “Zionist Union” party (24 MKs), led by Yitzchak (“Bujy”) Herzog, but that fell through.
Since the “Joint List” Arab party (13 MKs) is not an option, Bibi turned to the party that has always been his ideological and political “Plan B” (or maybe it was really “Plan A” all along?), Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing nationalistic “Yisrael Beiteinu.” With six MKs,  it pretty much solidifies the government’s position.
Lieberman demanded and received the Ministry of Defense.
Agreement was ratified by the Knesset, and Lieberman was sworn in.
Understandably, not everyone in Israel is happy, but aside from those few perennial declarers who say (again) that they are “packing their bags,” everyone understands that this is the cost of Israel’s style of democracy.
As for Lieberman as defense minister, I’m taking a wait-and-see position. Though he may not have been my first choice to replace Ya’alon, he might just turn out to be the right person at the right time. I disagree with those that are arguing that the position should be held by someone from within the IDF.
Due to the importance of the defense portfolio, prime ministers have often held the DM position in addition to their prime ministerial duties. Seven of the 16 defense ministers to date were serving prime ministers: David Ben-Gurion, Levi  Eshkol, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Bibi (two days…).
Five of them (Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya’alon) were former IDF Chiefs of Staff. Most of them were either civilians or served at low ranks. See the list at left.
Anyone familiar with the last 68 years knows that Israel has had excellent defense ministers who had no IDF experience at all — Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Arens, Peres, Begin — and civilian ones those were not that great, Lavon and Peretz, for example.
And even among those who had IDF experience, some were great, some were good, and at least one made a terrible decision that cost Israel over 9,000 casualties of which 2,656 were IDF killed.
Like I said — I’m taking a wait-and-see position on Lieberman as defense minister.
Agree or disagree, that’s my opinion.
Lt. Col. (IDF res) Gil Elan is president and CEO of the Southwest Jewish Congress, and a Middle East analyst. Email: gil@swjc.org
Upcoming briefings and SWJC events are listed at: www.swjc.org
DISCLAIMER: Opinions are the writer’s, and do not represent SWJC directors, officers or members.

 

 

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Past defense ministers

Below is the list of Past defense ministers and whether they served in the IDF.

Order    Minister
1    David Ben-Gurion    civilian
2    Pinhas Lavon    civilian
–    David Ben-Gurion    civilian
3    Levi Eshkol    civilian
4    Moshe Dayan    IDF (General)
5    Shimon Peres    Civilian
6    Ezer Weizman    IDF (General)
7    Menachem Begin    Civilian
8    Ariel Sharon    IDF (General)
–    Menachem Begin    Civilian
9    Moshe Arens    Civilian
10    Yitzhak Rabin    IDF (General)
–    Moshe Arens    Civilian
–    Yitzhak Rabin    IDF (General)
–    Shimon Peres    Civilian
11    Yitzhak Mordechai    IDF (General)
–    Moshe Arens    Civilian
12    Ehud Barak    IDF (General)
13    Binyamin Ben-Eliezer    IDF (General)
14    Shaul Mofaz    IDF (General)
15    Amir Peretz    IDF (Captain)
–    Ehud Barak    IDF (General)
16    Moshe Ya’alon    IDF (General)
–    Benjamin Netanyahu    IDF (Captain)
17    Avigdor Lieberman    IDF (Corporal)

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