Is a New Middle East War on Israel’s Horizon?

Today’s Top Stories

1.Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon? The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus crafts an in-depth analysis of the various players on and near to Israel’s northern and north-eastern borders. Hezbollah, Iran, Islamic State, Assad forces, Russia and a variety of other groups are variously competing and cooperating, each with different agendas and goals. This entire complexity has produced a kind of short term stability for Israel’s border, but the right set of events could lead to large scale war: not only for Israel but for the entire region. Worthwhile reading for anyone who enjoys speculating about the future.

2. Thousands hanged in Bashar Assad’s “torture prison” in Syria. An Amnesty International report says that the Saydnaya prison, also known as “The Slaughterhouse,” is the final destination for many of Syria’s political prisoners: a place of torture, rape, and an estimated 13,000 hangings in four years, carried out at a typical rate of 20 to 50 people per week. Many of the executions were carried out spontaneously in the middle of the night, sometimes after impromptu hearings or often with no judicial process at all, leading Amnesty International to label them as “extrajudicial killings.” Syria rejected the report as being untrue and the result of media being “misleading and inciting.”

3. Israel’s Bat-Sheva dance company is met with protests whenever it appears in the U.S. This time, however, the protesters are attempting to equate their anti-Bat-Sheva protests to anti-Trump protests. For an hour and a half before the show at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, NY, members of the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement could be heard shouting and cheering in protest against the modern dance troop. BDS logic holds that Israel is an “apartheid state,” that all things related to Israel must be banned everywhere in the world (except that they conveniently ignore medicine, technology, clean water, renewable energy and hundreds of other essentials), and now (apparently) that a dance troop and the American President are the same thing.

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Israel and the Palestinians

•The Israeli based global brand SodaStream has announced that it will begin labeling its products with a prominently displayed Israeli flag and the message, “Made in Israel…by Arabs and Jews working side-by-side in peace and harmony.” HonestReporting readers may remember that SodaStream’s factory used to be located in the West Bank, giving easy access to hundreds of Palestinian workers, but moved to the Israeli Negev in the wake of pressure from anti-Israel BDS (Boycott Divestment & Sanctions) groups. The move cost hundreds of Palestinian jobs, an outcome that BDS spokespeople described as “worth it.” Nonetheless, the company has made a point of continuing to work with Arabs and Jews in its new facility, and now sees fit to let the world know in an especially prominent way. Asked if the company was concerned that the move might hurt its sales, CEO Daniel Birnbaum replied with my personal favorite quote, “We are not motivated by fear.”

The new Soda Stream label

• It is not recent news that Hamas has been coordinating with Islamic State on smuggling and other matters of mutual interest, but you may not have known that a number of elite Hamas commanders from its Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have been defecting to instead become members of Islamic State as part of its operations in Egypt’s Sinai.

• In a dramatic statement to France’s Senate, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that Israeli settlements could result in an end to security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This is not the first time Palestinians have made such a threat, but actually carrying it out would make the Palestinian Authority government especially vulnerable to a takeover by Hamas and cause a general breakdown in the relative stability of the security situation in the West Bank.

Mideast Matters

• White House weighs designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group. This is significant because while other Iran linked groups have been declared terror organizations in the past, the IRGC is by far Iran’s most powerful security entity, which also has control over large stakes in Iran’s economy and huge influence in its political system.

• Even in the face of setbacks in strongholds like Mosul, ISIS continues its expansion: making major gains north Damascus where it captured three army bases from Syrian forces, as well as taking the strategically important town of al-Baza’ah from Turkish forces in northern Syria.

• Iran pulls missile from launchpad after apparent prep for launch, according to US officials. Coincidence? Or a result of some of the recent anti-missile pressure on Iran from the US and other world actors?

Commentary/Analysis

• Are Amona teenagers shifting Israel’s political climate to the right? The Atlantic’s Naomi Zeveloff thinks so.  Hundreds of young people, many not even old enough to vote, showed up to protest last week’s evacuation of the outpost: in some cases fighting off Israeli police with tear gas, pepper spray, iron bars, and rocks. It’s unlikely that any truly expected to stop the evacuation or reverse the court decision, but they did intend to send a message to Israeli society. The question is: how will that message be received and what effect will it have in the weeks and months ahead?

• This week’s statement from the White House said both, “we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace,” and also that, “the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful.” So the question on some people’s minds: is President Trump in favor of settlements or against them? In his Boston Globe op-ed, Jeff Jacoby contends that unlike Obama, Trump simply isn’t obsessed with where Israel’s Jews live. Is his analysis correct? And if so, is that a good thing? In the meantime, Newsweek’s Marc Schulman points out that Israelis hold a variety of opinions on the question. Both analyses are worth a read, and a bit of thought.

• Here’s what else I’m reading today . . .

Charles Glass: How Assad is Winning
Con Coughlin: Donald Trump must act to end Iran’s malign plan to seize control of the Middle East
Tim Collard: China and the Middle East – a rapidly changing picture

 

Featured image: CC BY-NC Frank Knaack;

 

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