Archive for January 4, 2018

China building military base in Pakistan

January 4, 2018

China building military base in Pakistan, Washington TimesBill Gertz, January 3, 2018

Chinese planes will be flying from a facility at Jiwani, Pakistan — a port close to the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman — as part of a push for greater power projection capabilities along strategic sea routes. (Associated Press/File)

President Trump on Monday issued a harsh rebuke of Pakistan, tweeting that the United States “foolishly” supplied Pakistan with $33 billion in aid over 15 years and stating that “they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Reuters reported that China’s investment has included $500 million in grants and $230 million for an international airport.

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China is constructing its second overseas military base in Pakistan as part of a push for greater power projection capabilities along strategic sea routes.

The facility will be built at Jiwani, a port close to the Iranian border on the Gulf of Oman, according to two people familiar with deal.

Plans call for the Jiwani base to be a joint naval and air facility for Chinese forces, located a short distance up the coast from the Chinese-built commercial port facility at Gwadar, Pakistan. Both Gwadar and Jiwani are part of Pakistan’s western Baluchistan province.

Plans for the base were advanced during a visit to Jiwani on Dec. 18 by a group of 16 Chinese People’s Liberation Army officers who met with about 10 Pakistani military officers. Jiwani is located on a peninsula about 15 miles long on a stretch of land with one small airfield.

According to sources, the large naval and air base will require the Pakistani government to relocate scores of residents living in the area. Plans call for their relocation to other areas of Jiwani or further inland in Baluchistan province.

The Chinese also asked the Pakistanis to undertake a major upgrade of Jiwani airport so the facility will be able to handle large Chinese military aircraft. Work on the airport improvements is expected to begin in July.

The naval base and airfield will occupy nearly the entire strategic peninsula.

Jiwani will be China’s second major overseas military base. In August, the PLA opened its first foreign base in Djibouti, a small African nation on the Horn of Africa.

The Pentagon has dubbed China’s foreign military basing ambitions the “string of pearls” strategy. The Chinese are planning to set up bases along a line of states stretching from the Persian Gulf through the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia.

The military bases are part of a bid by Beijing to protect strategic sea lanes used to transport oil and other resources for China’s large energy-consuming modernization.

Chinese Communist Party and military leaders fear the country could be crippled by foreign powers through a blockade or other military interdiction operations to disrupt oil shipments to China along the sea route during a crisis or conflict.

China’s government has sought to downplay the Djibouti base as merely a logistics facility for anti-piracy sea patrols in the region and not a power-projection tool. Similar propaganda will be used to limit international reaction to the Jiwani base.

Some Pentagon officials, however, regard the Djibouti base and the future second base at Jiwani as part of efforts to control oil shipping in and out of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Both Chinese bases are located near strategic chokepoints — Djibouti near the Bab el Mandeb on the Red Sea and Jiwani close to the Strait of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s military also has been moving additional troops and security forces into nearby Gwadar, where China has invested heavily in building a commercial port and other infrastructure projects.

President Trump on Monday issued a harsh rebuke of Pakistan, tweeting that the United States “foolishly” supplied Pakistan with $33 billion in aid over 15 years and stating that “they have given us nothing but lies & deceit.”

“They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

Reuters reported that China’s investment has included $500 million in grants and $230 million for an international airport.

China is also promoting what Beijing calls the Belt and Road Initiative, a development program of land and sea routes over 60 nations in Asia, Europe and Africa.

As part of that initiative, China plans to turn Gwadar into a megaport for transshipping goods worldwide, along with energy pipelines, roads and rail links connecting to western China. Chinese naval and air forces at nearby Jiwani would then provide protection for that base.

China also has leased a port on the Indian Ocean island of Sri Lanka that recently opened at Hambantota. The facility has raised concerns in India that views China as a growing regional and global threat.

MATTIS ON SYRIA OPERATIONS

Defense Secretary James Mattis recently voiced concerns that foreign jihadis being driven from Syria and Iraq will move to other parts of the region and around the world to conduct terrorist attacks.

But the retired four-star Marine Corps general told reporters Dec. 29 that U.S. and allied forces are working to crush all remnants of the Islamic State terrorist group.

Mr. Mattis said the strategy put into place by the Trump administration is producing good results, despite criticism that the military efforts were not moving fast enough.

“We deal with reality,” he said. “We told you that the caliphate was going to go down. Well, there were numerous people who thought perhaps the strategy was wrong when it was initiated by the last administration, thought it was too slow when I came in, thought there was this complexity with Turkey or that complexity with the Russian regime or the Iranians.

“We sit here today at the end of 2017, [and] the caliphate is on the run,” he added. “We are breaking them.”

The terrorists’ capital of Raqqa in Syria was retaken along with other Islamic State strongholds at Manbij and Tabqa.

“Some people escaped,” he said. “That’s what happens in war. They moved, clearly, into the Middle Euphrates River Valley. We are in the process of crushing the life out of the caliphate there while trying to keep the innocent people safe, which is very hard with this group.”

Mr. Mattis said the fleeing terrorists are “not a big issue.”

“They’ll have to be hunted down,” he noted, adding that the remnants of the organized terrorists have been launching counterattacks.

So far, the Islamic State does not appear capable of regrouping within some safe havens in the region, such as central Iraq.

“They’ve been shattered, and then the remnants gather somewhere, which is what we expect them to do, and so we have repeatedly said in this room the war is not over,” Mr. Mattis said.

The defense secretary said the objective is to so weaken the Islamic State where the danger can be handled by local forces and police.

But hunting down Islamic State fighters is continuing.

“Am I worried about it? Not in the least,” Mr. Mattis said. “These guys have not proven they can stand against the Iraqi security forces. They cannot stand against the [Syrian Democratic Forces]. Their best bet is against unarmed men, women and children, and once they’re confronted with this, it’s mostly an intelligence fight. Once the intelligence fight is won, once we identify where they’re at, it’s just a matter of: Can we surround them so they don’t get away to fight another, and then kill them? It’s not who’s going to win.”

PENTAGON REPORTERS MEET MATTIS

The comments on Syria by Defense Secretary James Mattis last week came during one of his infrequent press briefings that in the past took place unannounced in the small reporters’ office near the Pentagon press office in the eastern wing of the five-sided building.

Mr. Mattis often conducted the press sessions after picking up his laundry from the Pentagon dry cleaners. That format forced press outlets to keep reporters in the office at all times to avoid missing a potential news story.

Mr. Mattis told the gathered scribes last week that he would try to provide more notice for his impromptu stop-bys.

The defense chief said he was pressed by The Associated Press’ Bob Burns, a veteran Pentagon reporter, to regularize the press meetings and promised to try to announce them in advance.

“The problem with that is that, if I do that and tell you in advance, and then something comes up and I don’t show up, then that becomes the story,” said Mr. Mattis, who is considered one of the Trump administration’s senior officials who is very cautious when speaking to reporters.

“You just have to understand, there are times when other things come up that intrude on my schedule,” he said. “And it’s like anything else on my schedule. I may just dismiss the forward officers who spent two weeks preparing the brief for me because something’s come up and I’ve got to go over to State Department or need to run out to some other place.”

Mr. Mattis said his press meetings generally will take place later in the week since Monday is “when I have the least control of my schedule, and it actually gets better during the week.”

“But, if something goes on in Korea or something like that, then things change. That’s the way it is.”

Are Iranians Really Protesting Against Islam?

January 4, 2018

Are Iranians Really Protesting Against Islam?, FrontPage MagazineRaymond Ibrahim, January 4, 2018

Protesters could also potentially face the death penalty when their cases come to trial, according to the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, the AP reported. Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency quoted Mousa Ghazanfarabadi as saying: “Obviously one of their charges can be Moharebeh,” or waging war against God [Allah], which is a death penalty offense in Iran.

Moharebeh is precisely what al-Zawahiri was referring to in the above excerpt: the only legitimate reason to overthrow an Islamic ruler is his failure to govern according to Islam—which Khamenei and his regime can hardly be accused of. Seeking to depose him because he is personally corrupt, despotic, cruel, or spending more money on jihad than food is forbidden, and makes the protestors aggressors against Allah, a crime worthy of punishment, including death.

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What began on December 28 as local protests against high food prices in the northern city of Mashhad, Iran, has spiraled into mass protests consisting of some hundreds of thousands of Iranians in some two dozen cities, including if not especially Tehran, the seat of government.  So far over 20 people have been killed and many hundreds arrested in what has been widely described as “the most serious internal crisis the country has faced this decade.”

The protests have morphed from mundane topics concerning the economy to more existential topics concerning Islamic leadership. Reportedly hundreds of thousands of protesters have been heard shouting “We don’t want an Islamic Republic,” and calling blessings on Reza Shah, the staunch secularist and political reformer who did much to Westernize Iran, until his son and successor, Muhammad Reza Shah was deposed during the Islamic Revolution of 1979.   According to Mideast media, women—such as Maryam Rajavi—are spearheading the current protests (and symbolically rejecting Islamic impositions by publicly removing their hijabs). 

Even the Iranian regime sees the current unrest as a revolt against Islam.  In his initial remarks after demonstrations first erupted, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said, “All those who are against the Islamic Republic … have all joined forces in order to create problems for the Islamic Republic and the Islamic Revolution” (note the recurrent and telling adjective “Islamic”).

Even so, “mainstream media” see growing poverty and frustration at the lack of social freedoms as the only reasons behind the current unrest.  Overlooked in their analysis is that, because Islam is not meant to be a “spiritual thing” one does privately, but is rather a complete system of governance, permeating the whole of private and social life, the ongoing protests in Iran, while ostensibly revolving around economic, social, and political issues, are ultimately protests against Islamic teachings concerning economic, social, and political issues, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has been imposing on the populace since coming to power in 1979.

This is evident even in the new rallying cry of the protestors—“Death to the Dictator”—in reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself.  By its very nature, Islamic law—both Sunni and Shia—calls for dictatorial rule.  So long as the caliph, sultan, or emir governs society according to Sharia, Muslims must obey him—even if he is a despicable and cruel personage.  After examining a number of Islamic rulings from authoritative exegetes, as well as a number of statements attributed to Muslim prophet Muhammad and in the Koran concerning the importance for Muslims to follow Islamic law—which is the only relevant question of when Muslims should and should not seek to overthrow their ruler—Ayman al-Zawahiri writes,

To summarize: It is forbidden to overthrow a tyrant, but it is a duty to overthrow an infidel. If the ruler is despotic, it is unlawful for a Muslim to rally other Muslims in order to condemn him, for if they do so then they become the aggressors and it becomes incumbent for the sultan to fight them (Al Qaeda Reader, p. 122).

As it happens, the social oppression currently being protested against in Iran—from second-class status for women, to bans on all forms of expression critical of Islam, its prophet, and his representative on earth—is mandated by Islamic law, making the protestors “the aggressors.”

But even the economic aspects of the protests are largely by-products of Islamist aspirations.  As Donald Trump tweeted last Friday, the Iranian “people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer.” Indeed, the economic suffering of the people has come at a time when the regime has grown rich—not least by Obama giving them over $100 billion as part of a nuclear deal.  The reason for this disparity is that the regime has been and continues to spend much of its wealth in trying to realize its stated Islamic ideals; it prefers supporting Hezbollah (currently Forbes wealthiest terrorist organization) and Hamas (third wealthiest) against the nearest “infidel” enemy, Israel, in the name of and for the greater glory of Islam, rather than feed its people.

Incidentally, because the right to protest is a given in the West, and thus occurs often, including over trivial and/or absurd matters—as when university students planned a “sh*t-in,” occupying restrooms as a way of demanding more “gender-neutral facilities”—the grave consequences of the current protests in Iran are indicative of just how fed up Iranians are—and the fatal risks they are willing to take—which, unsurprisingly, also trace back to Islam:

Protesters could also potentially face the death penalty when their cases come to trial, according to the head of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court, the AP reported. Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency quoted Mousa Ghazanfarabadi as saying: “Obviously one of their charges can be Moharebeh,” or waging war against God [Allah], which is a death penalty offense in Iran.

Moharebeh is precisely what al-Zawahiri was referring to in the above excerpt: the only legitimate reason to overthrow an Islamic ruler is his failure to govern according to Islam—which Khamenei and his regime can hardly be accused of. Seeking to depose him because he is personally corrupt, despotic, cruel, or spending more money on jihad than food is forbidden, and makes the protestors aggressors against Allah, a crime worthy of punishment, including death.

Europe’s deafening silence

January 4, 2018

Europe’s deafening silence, Israel Hayom, Eldad Beck, January 4, 2018

It took until Tuesday evening for Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s senior representative for foreign affairs, to break her silence on the mass protests against the Iranian regime. Mogherini, who wastes no time when it comes to responding to every announcement on the expansion of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, found it fitting to wait until demonstrators began to clear out of city streets out of fear of a violent response by the Revolutionary Guards before she called on “all concerned” in Iran to abstain from violence and said the killing of dozens of protesters at the hands of Iranian forces was “unacceptable.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also remained silent for far too long. Her spokesman waited until Wednesday to express admiration for the bravery of the people taking to Tehran’s streets to express their financial and political concerns. By the time the statement was issued, protests against the mullah regime had already subsided.

French President Emmanuel Macron was slightly more energetic in his approach. Macron called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani directly to express his concern for the number of protesters killed and the violation of the freedom of expression. He also decided to postpone a visit by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that had been scheduled for this week.

The timing of the popular uprising in Iran may have been less than convenient for the Europeans, as it coincides with the holiday season, but this was not the only reason for their silence: Their reaction was muted because the protests across Iran served to shatter the Europeans’ central argument in their defense of the nuclear deal with Tehran. The nuclear agreement, which the EU sees as its greatest achievement, was justified by arguing that should Rouhani and the “moderates” around him not be able to present the deal to the Iranian people, a deal that would lift international sanctions, improve the economy, contribute to the welfare of the population and preserve that nation’s dignity, the path would be paved for the “extremists” to return to power.

This desire to keep the “moderates” in power led the Europeans to shut their eyes to Tehran’s advancement of its ballistic missile program, Iranian efforts to undermine Middle East stability and its continuing human rights violations. But it is against the policies of these so-called moderates – the darlings of Europe, that the masses have now come out to demonstrate. It is possible that the Europeans will now argue for more open economic policies toward Iran and the removal of obstacles they still believe will spare the “moderates” from the wrath of the people and prevent the strengthening of the “extremists.” There are already those comparing the most recent wave of protests to the student protests of 1999, which undermined the position of Iran’s then-“moderate” President Mohammad Khatami.

Then as now, silence does not help the masses in Iran, who expect the European Union to be loyal not to its historical hypocrisy and economic calculations but to its founding principles.

Trump’s national security strategy holds the hidden key to defeating jihadism

January 4, 2018

Trump’s national security strategy holds the hidden key to defeating jihadism, Washington ExaminerBen Weingarten, January 4, 2017

Domestically, the administration’s failed “countering violent extremism” policy at best ignored Islamic supremacist ideology in counterterrorism efforts, and at worst actively empowered the Islamic supremacist ideologues themselves under the guise of “community engagement.”

If the Trump administration’s newly released national security strategy is to govern U.S. national security and foreign policy, this long national and international nightmare may soon be over.

According to the strategy, the “most dangerous threat” to America is no longer “violent extremists” (or climate change), but rather “jihadist terrorists.”

The Trump administration should be applauded for this monumental change in our national security strategy. It should be encouraged to make the strategy concrete by drafting and implementing a modern-day NSC-68 for the global jihadist movement: A comprehensive plan to defeat jihadist actors state and non-state, violent and non-violent, overt and covert, availing ourselves of every resource and tool we have in every realm. The fate of Western civilization – facing an enemy that as the national security strategy suggests wishes to subjugate us to Sharia tyranny – hangs in the balance.

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The Obama administration’s purge of the lexicon of Islamic supremacism from our national security and foreign policy apparatus was one of the single most detrimental manifestations of its delusional worldview.

The scrubbing of Islamic terms and concepts from government training and policy materials, while Islamic terrorists engaged the U.S. in battle, reflected an inability or unwillingness to openly and honestly recognize our jihadist enemy and their threat doctrine. If you do not know or refuse to understand your enemy, and their goals, tactics, and strategies, they will be well-positioned to defeat you.

In the Obama administration’s purge could be found the seeds of its singularly disastrous policy towards the Islamic world, in which it found itself actively colluding with those who wish to destroy us.

Globally, the administration aidedabetted, and enabled the world’s leading state sponsor of jihad in Iran and its proxies (as the new drug-running-for-Iran Deal revelations regarding Project Cassandra remind us) elevated the Muslim Brotherhood on the Sunni side and Hezbollah on the Shia side as “political Islamist” forces with whom the U.S. could do business, and sought to create “daylight” by punishing and endangering our staunchest moral, ideological, and strategic ally in Israel.

Domestically, the administration’s failed “countering violent extremism” policy at best ignored Islamic supremacist ideology in counterterrorism efforts, and at worst actively empowered the Islamic supremacist ideologues themselves under the guise of “community engagement.”

If the Trump administration’s newly released national security strategy is to govern U.S. national security and foreign policy, this long national and international nightmare may soon be over.

According to the strategy, the “most dangerous threat” to America is no longer “violent extremists” (or climate change), but rather “jihadist terrorists.”

These jihadists are no longer deemed “nihilistic,” nor are their aims considered nonsensical.

The document says:

Jihadist terrorists such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida…spread a barbaric ideology that calls for the violent destruction of governments and innocents they consider to be apostates. These jihadist terrorists attempt to force those under their influence to submit to Sharia law.

Further, the administration asserts that we are at war with “fanatics who advance a totalitarian vision for a global Islamist caliphate that justifies murder and slavery, promotes repression, and seeks to undermine the American way of life.”

The ramifications of accurately defining our enemy and describing what animates them go many orders of magnitude beyond just supplanting political correctness with truth.

As the national security strategy details, the U.S. intends to fight its adversaries using every means of federal government power. To the degree to which we have a clear-eyed understanding of the jihadist enemy, we can orient all of our assets towards its threat doctrine and defeat it.

If indeed the U.S. government is allowed to study the Islamic supremacist threat doctrine and devise a national security and foreign policy commensurate with it, we could reverse the tide of a war with the global jihadist movement that I believe we have been losing.

The Trump administration should be applauded for this monumental change in our national security strategy. It should be encouraged to make the strategy concrete by drafting and implementing a modern-day NSC-68 for the global jihadist movement: A comprehensive plan to defeat jihadist actors state and non-state, violent and non-violent, overt and covert, availing ourselves of every resource and tool we have in every realm. The fate of Western civilization – facing an enemy that as the national security strategy suggests wishes to subjugate us to Sharia tyranny – hangs in the balance.

Ben Weingarten is a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and the Founder & CEO of ChangeUp Media, a conservative media consulting and production company.

Trump is serious about slashing aid to Palestinians and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon

January 4, 2018

Trump is serious about slashing aid to Palestinians and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon, DEBKAfile, January 4, 2017

In view of the Trump administration Middle East policies, which meet Israel’s most vital security concerns, the attitude adopted towards Hamas by Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott is incomprehensible. At a time that Washington is clamping down hard on Iran’s anti-Israel friends, pawns and proxies in the Middle East, Israel’s own security leaders are talking quietly to Hamas. They believe they can coax the leaders of this Iranian-funded terrorist organization into stopping the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza which beset Israel almost daily. Still worse, they are using as their main intermediaries local UNRWA officers, who are notoriously antagonistic to Israel and represent a UN body targeted by the Trump administration for the cutoff of aid. They are assisted by a UN Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov of Bulgarian.

These talks have achieved very little. Hamas has only consented to its own operatives refraining from firing the rockets, but shuts both eyes when fellow terrorist factions keep the rockets coming, so long as they are kept to a “moderate” trickle. Given these contacts with Hamas, it is hard for Israel to raise an outcry when a Palestinian Authority official gets together with its arch-foe, Hassan Nasrallah. Meanwhile, “moderate” rocket fire is a continuous bane for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are trying to live normal lives.

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Palestinian leaders in Ramallah were wrong to assume that President Donald Trump does not seriously mean to cut off US aid. He meant exactly what he said when he tweeted on Wednesday, Jan. 3: …we pay the Palestinians HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue… peace treaty with Israel. We have taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more.” He then asked rhetorically: “But with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

DEBKAfile points out that, in the first place, Donald Trump is always serious when he discusses money, and, in the second, he is ready to wield the axe on US aid programs,  not just for Ramallah (and Pakistan), but across the Middle East. Nations and organizations even slightly tainted with Iranian influence are especially targeted.

Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah was fast on the uptake. In a speech on Wednesday night, he stressed that Iran and his own organization were financing the Palestinian struggle over Jerusalem. He disclosed a recent meeting he had in Beirut with Azzam Al-Ahmed of Fatah, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ special emissary for negotiations with Hamas.
In his speech, he made four points which represented Tehran’s reply to Trump:

  1. The Palestinians need not worry. They can rely on Iran and Hizballah to make up the funding shortfall resulting from the cutoff of US aid.
  2. The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks brokered by Egypt depend above all on Hizballah’s say-so for a Hamas decision.
  3. Even Abbas is forced to accept this, which is why he had no choice but to send a representative of his Fatah party for a secret meeting with the Hizballah leader. Since Hamas’ deputy chief, Salah Arouri, had already spent time with Nasrallah before traveling to Tehran, Abbas had decided he had better place his party and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on an equal footing with Hams vis-a-vis Tehran.
  4. Just as Iran and Hizballah are bankrolling Hamas and Jihad Islami for fighting Israel from the Gaza Strip, they are also backing the Palestinian struggle for Jerusalem. This cuts Jordan out of the picture. Whether or not this is the truth, Nasrallah’s rhetoric made an impression on Palestinian and wider Arab opinion.

Until recently, some US administration officials were certain they had managed to extract Lebanese President Michel Aoun and the Lebanese army from the Iranian-Hizballah orbit. Trump was not sold on this and acted to neutralize this assumption. He inserted Andrew L. Peek into the State Department as deputy assistant secretary of state covering Iran and Iraq. Peek, who has no diplomatic record, comes from US military intelligence, a world which never shared the State Department’s patience with Iran and Hizballah. His appointment quickly touched off an administration reassessment of the US economic and military aid program for Lebanon. It was coupled with a recommendation of political action to head off a pact between President Aoun and Nasrallah, which could give this pro-Iranian duo a majority in parliament in Lebanon’s next election. It was also decided to discontinue US support for the Lebanese army in view of its domination by Hizballah.

President Trump is contemplating similar steps in Baghdad for curtailing Iranian domination of Iraq’s political leadership.

In view of the Trump administration Middle East policies, which meet Israel’s most vital security concerns, the attitude adopted towards Hamas by Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gady Eisenkott is incomprehensible. At a time that Washington is clamping down hard on Iran’s anti-Israel friends, pawns and proxies in the Middle East, Israel’s own security leaders are talking quietly to Hamas. They believe they can coax the leaders of this Iranian-funded terrorist organization into stopping the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza which beset Israel almost daily. Still worse, they are using as their main intermediaries local UNRWA officers, who are notoriously antagonistic to Israel and represent a UN body targeted by the Trump administration for the cutoff of aid. They are assisted by a UN Middle East envoy, Nikolay Mladenov of Bulgarian.

These talks have achieved very little. Hamas has only consented to its own operatives refraining from firing the rockets, but shuts both eyes when fellow terrorist factions keep the rockets coming, so long as they are kept to a “moderate” trickle. Given these contacts with Hamas, it is hard for Israel to raise an outcry when a Palestinian Authority official gets together with its arch-foe, Hassan Nasrallah. Meanwhile, “moderate” rocket fire is a continuous bane for hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are trying to live normal lives.

Hungry for regional hegemony, Iran takes a bite out of Hamas

January 4, 2018

Source: Hungry for regional hegemony, Iran takes a bite out of Hamas – Israel News – Jerusalem Post

BY CHARLES BYBELEZER/THE MEDIA LINE
 JANUARY 4, 2018 09:17
The regime hopes to add the Hamas-ruled Palestinian enclave to its axis of ‘resistance.’
gaza iran

 A file photo from 2012 of a banner that reads “Thanks and gratitude to Iran” in Gaza City. (photo credit: REUTERS)

One week of popular protests in Iran has brought into stark focus the country’s deep internal divisions, along with widespread resentment towards the mullahs, which have remained relatively dormant since regime forces brutally quashed the Green Revolution in 2009. What started last Thursday in the city of Mashhad as a small economic rally—with participants primarily venting frustration over the lack of trickle-down effect from some $100 billion in sanctions relief granted to Tehran in the 2015 nuclear deal—has morphed into nationwide, deadly demonstrations against the rulership of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Across Iran chants of “death to the dictator” have become common refrain as pictures of the ayatollah are set on fire. Among the many grievances being aired is anger over the Islamic Republic’s deep military, and thus financial, involvement in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, in addition to support for Lebanese-based Hezbollah. Somewhat less pronounced is the regime’s bankrolling of the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, although protesters have reportedly recited slogans such as ‘Let go of Palestine’ and ‘Forget Palestine’ while invoking the Gaza Strip in particular.

In this respect, relations between Shiite Iran and Sunni Hamas have thawed since the former froze ties with Gaza’s rulers after they refused to support the Assad government at the onset of the Syrian war. Now, Tehran’s renewed funding of Hamas is part and parcel of the Islamic Republic’s attempt to increase its regional influence and, on the micro level, its presence along Israel’s borders. The latter entails accelerating Hezbollah’s militarization in Lebanon and establishing a permanent presence in Syria, including the entrenchment of Shiite proxies in the Golan Heights.

According to Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser (ret.), former director general of the Israeli Ministry of International Affairs and Strategy, Iran’s growing involvement in Gaza is based on a convergence of interests. “On the one hand, Hamas has become weaker as it lost the ability to rely on its usual supporters, while its effort to forge unity with the Palestinian Authority appears to have failed. “On the other hand,” he explained to The Media Line, “the Iranians want to increase the strength of the ‘resistance’ axis that opposes Israel and promotes radical Islamic ideology and Hamas can be a useful ally in this cause.”

Brig. Gen. (res.) Eli Ben Meir, who served as the IDF’s chief intelligence officer, agrees that Iran is making inroads in the Strip to fill the vacuum created by Hamas’ isolation, but also in response to developments in the north. “There is a potential for escalation in Syria,” he told The Media Line, “as Israel has repeatedly talked about enforcing its red lines [and reportedly carried out multiple strikes against Iranian assets to uphold them]. So Tehran is sending a message that such action can be met with a response from Gaza.”

In fact, there has been a marked uptick in rocket attacks against Israel emanating from the Palestinian enclave since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital. However, in the wake of last week’s apparent targeting of a ceremony honoring an IDF soldier whose remains are being held by Hamas, multiple Israeli officials have publicly accused Tehran of deliberately raising tensions.

For his part, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman released a video in which he slammed the Islamic Republic for working to “destroy” Gaza while “hurting Israel as much as possible.” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz referred to the Strip as a “ticking time bomb” caused by a “direct Iranian intervention,” with Tehran allegedly having supplied some of the mortars fired at southern Israeli towns. Former defense chief Moshe Ya’alon warned that Iran, empowered by military successes throughout the region, is likely to shift some of its attention towards subverting Israel.

On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot revealed that Tehran has increased its funding to Hamas and Islamic Jihad from an estimated $70 million to $100 million annually in order to exert more influence over Gaza. Nevertheless, he described as “irresponsible” those calling for a stronger response to attacks, while confirming that the IDF is “carrying out various covert and open efforts including [the] promotion of restraining factors.”

Indeed, there appears to be disagreement within the Israeli political and military establishments over how to deal with the growing threat from Gaza, where the Jewish state has fought three wars over the past decade.

“There are three main courses of action that Israel can take,” Ben Meir explained to The Media Line. “The first is a full-scale operation that involves throwing Hamas out of the Strip. The second is conducting low-intensity warfare, a tit-for-tat approach—such as responding to rocket fire with airstrikes—in order to contain the situation. And the third option is finding a way to dramatically change the severe civilian economic conditions.”

Brig. Gen. (ret.) Israela Oron, who as a member of Israel’s National Security Council devised strategies to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighted to The Media Line the difficulties of balancing these options. “Israel does not want to appear weak by having no answer to Iranian provocations so at times there is a need to act, especially to prevent the other side from gaining new capabilities that can change the status quo.  The difficulty is when to decide to do something serious about preparations to attack Israel.”

Meanwhile, Oron believes Jerusalem should take meaningful steps to ease the humanitarian situation in Gaza, “including putting pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to provide some of the things he promised to Hamas, like lifting sanctions on the Strip. The more Hamas’ back is pushed to the wall,” she continued, “the greater the immediate danger and the likelihood it becomes fully dependent on Iran.”

As per the chances of a full-blown conflict breaking out, most analysts agree that the prospect is presently unlikely. “Hamas still considers calm in Gaza as a better deal than escalation,” Kuperwasser contended to The Media Line. “They tried war three times under much better conditions, when the Muslim Brotherhood was a stronger regional player. But it failed repeatedly, so what is the point of moving towards another conflict?”

As such, Iran is liable to keep fostering instability in Gaza, thereby keeping Israel on edge, until such time the circumstances become more favorable.  “Tehran will fan the flames until ultimately there is a confrontation,” Ben Meir concluded, “as Israel then pays a price not only in casualties but also in terms of public opinion and diplomatically in the international community. Such a scenario would also widen the gap between Israel and Sunni countries, which have aligned in the fight against Tehran.”

For the moment, then, the Iranian regime will likely follow the blueprint of Hezbollah in Lebanon, effectively building up the military capacities of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad with a view to increasing its control over Gaza and, eventually, using that leverage to advance its regional ambitions, including harming Israel.

The end of an era

January 4, 2018

The end of an era, Israel Hayom, Dr. Reuven Berko, January 3, 2018

Most of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip are waking up. The sparsely attended “days of rage” Hamas and the PA initiated over the issue of Jerusalem signal a disappointing finale because the city used to be an issue that would light up both the Palestinians and Arab nations.

The Gazans are sick of Hamas, and in Judea and Samaria they are tired of the corruption in the PA, and once again an interim government devoted to economic issues that would have Israel’s blessing is being discussed. Some reject the militant candidates for Abbas’ position (Majid Faraj and Mohammed Dahlan) as representatives of the same old organizational approach and would prefer Salam Fayyad, who has already proven his ability to make the vision of a flourishing Palestinian society a reality. That might work well for us.

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In the late 1990s, author and political commentator Fouad Ajami published his book “The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation’s Odyssey,” in which he laid out the failures in the worldviews of Arab leaders and their self-criticism as the reason for their lack of achievement.

Two decades later, as 2017 was drawing to a close, the Palestinians’ dream palace sustained three serious blows in quick succession. First, U.S. President Donald Trump declared that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This was followed by the Likud Central Committee’s decision to annex the settlements and the Jordan Valley. Finally, the Knesset passed a law that removes the teeth from any future peace deal involving Jerusalem (by requiring a special majority of 80 MKs to vote in favor of handing any part of the city over to any foreign government).

If the Palestinians were to look at them in a sober light, they would see that the U.N. resolutions that followed Trump’s announcement were meaningless. In light of the continuing historic drama that began with the landmark Balfour Declaration, the U.N. resolutions condemning Trump’s announcement carried no operative significance and merely served as a faint echo of the detached institution’s fading anti-Israelism.

The latest provocations from Hamas are not a lust for battle, but an expression of how desperate and lost – operatively, politically, and ideologically – the organization is. This beaten and battered group made an immense investment in missiles and attack tunnels, at a heavy cost to its people. These have become a pointless burden. Hamas is currently in a political situation in which the world is sick of Islamism, and the entities that aid and abet it (Qatar, Iran, and Turkey) are bogged down in their own domestic troubles.

The Palestinian Authority is at the end of an era. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is trying fruitlessly to use a diplomatic atmosphere that is hostile to Israel to wring concessions out of it, while simultaneously avoiding direct negotiations with Israel or recognizing it as a Jewish state. The PA is wasting time trying to paint Israel as an apartheid state through a South Africa-style boycott movement, while continuing to coordinate on security because it is afraid of Hamas.

The Israeli convoy is moving on while the PA is gritting its teeth over absurd demands (Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees), not realizing the effect the processes at work in the world are having on their delusional dreams. Indeed, Islamist terrorism, the Iranian threat, the breakdown of many countries in the region, the masses of Muslim refugees into sinking Europe, the persecution of Christians in the Middle East – these are the factors that have sidelined the Palestinian problem, which was never the cause of the regional unrest.

As these developments take place, Abbas is claiming that the U.S. is sponsoring an Israeli strategy to eradicate the Palestinians and their irrefutable right to kill off the peace process. A range of voices in Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Hamas – responded to Trump’s declaration and Israel’s decision about Jerusalem and the settlements with the language of a declaration of war that demands that they revoke any recognition of Israel and the peace process and resume resistance (the armed struggle).

Most of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip are waking up. The sparsely attended “days of rage” Hamas and the PA initiated over the issue of Jerusalem signal a disappointing finale because the city used to be an issue that would light up both the Palestinians and Arab nations.

The Gazans are sick of Hamas, and in Judea and Samaria they are tired of the corruption in the PA, and once again an interim government devoted to economic issues that would have Israel’s blessing is being discussed. Some reject the militant candidates for Abbas’ position (Majid Faraj and Mohammed Dahlan) as representatives of the same old organizational approach and would prefer Salam Fayyad, who has already proven his ability to make the vision of a flourishing Palestinian society a reality. That might work well for us.