Syria’s Gory Present and Threatening Future

Today’s Top Stories

1. With so much focus on tragic and immediate events in Syria we may be overlooking an important element relevant to the country’s future, and the future of the entire Middle East. Israeli Minister Yuval Steinitz tells the Jerusalem Post that as world powers focus on toppling ISIS, Iran is quietly gaining traction in Syria – posing a direct threat to Israel, eastern Mediterranean countries and the entire Arabian Peninsula. Steinitz continues:

It’s very easy and convenient to focus on ISIS, but we have two challenges in Syria: one is ISIS and one is Iran.

It is possible that the end of the Syrian civil war is in sight, which means that Israel and the other countries in the region are facing serious questions about their own security: in the face of an expanded Iranian presence, the growth of a battle hardened Hezbollah, an uncertain role being played by Russia, and perhaps a re-cementing of the power of Bashar Assad. According to Steinitz:

The greater threat is coming from Iran, and not just from its nuclear program. The most immediate and urgent threat is the Iranian plan to transform Syria, after this horrible, brutal civil war is over, into some kind of extension of Iran.

2. More on the chemical weapons attack in Syria: In an apparent attempt to exonerate the Syrian government, Russian Defense ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement early Wednesday that Russian military assets registered a Syrian air force strike Tuesday on rebel weapons depots and an ammunition factory on the eastern outskirts of the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Konashenkov said chemical weapons produced by the factory were used in Iraq. He added that the same type of chemical weapons had been previously used by the rebels in Aleppo, where they had caused symptoms similar to those seen in images from Khan Sheikhoun. The Russian statement follows an international outcry over what was described as a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 58 people died, including 11 children. Both Russia and Syria both have denied launching the chemical attack, though as we reported in yesterday’s IDNS, there is also reason to believe the attack was carried out by Bashar Assad’s Syrian government.

3. Britain’s Labor Party has been facing a problem of anti-Semitism in its ranks for some time, but the most dramatic example is certainly MP Ken Livingstone. With frequent comments like “Hitler was a Zionist,” the Telegraph suggests that party head Jeremy Corbyn could be facing an internal mutiny of sorts for failing to expel Livingstone entirely from the party. However, British Colonel Richard Kemp (Ret.) opines on Twitter (somewhat sarcastically) that perhaps Livingstone shouldn’t be expelled, as his anti-Semitism perfectly fits the party’s current (and unfortunate) ethos.

 

In a previous IDNS we shared an image of a recently re-discovered telegram from Hitler’s deputy Himmler to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, promising him Nazi support to fight Jews. So while Hitler may have wanted Jews to leave Germany (before later trapping them inside Germany to be killed in death camps), Hitler and his government were also prepared to kill Jews in the land of Israel. This is Ken Livingstone’s definition of “Zionism?”

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Israel and the Palestinians

• For the first time in years, the UN Security Council will not focus its monthly debate on the Middle East on Israel and the Palestinians, said U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who presides over the Council for the month of April. Haley continues:

We are not going to support the Palestinian actions here at the UN until they came to the table.

• As expected US President Donald Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have discussed the possibility of holding an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in the United States this summer. Trump’s envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, reportedly raised the initiative with Arab officials. As is typical in such discussions, there seems to be no actual input from Israelis or Palestinians, which makes it difficult to determine whether these discussions will result in meaningful future actions.

• A Palestinian man who allegedly trained in Syria to carry out terror attacks in Israel on behalf of Hamas was arrested by the Shin Bet security service in February after he returned to the West Bank, the agency said Wednesday. Malek Nizar Yousef Qazmar, 23, is said to have joined the terrorist group in August 2015 when he was living in Jordan. Originally from Qalqilya in the West Bank, the Palestinian man lived in Turkish Cyprus for many years. In January 2016, Qazmar was sent to a military training camp in Syria, the Shin Bet said.

• Israel appoints its first female Muslim diplomat: Rasha Atamny, 31, from Baqa al-Gharbiya, will be heading to Ankara, Turkey. Atamny, who is completing the final months of the ministry’s cadet course, will serve in a diplomatic position in the embassy’s called “first secretary.”

Around the World

A Jewish community group in Sweden has decided to close down, after their location was targeted with swastikas and daubed with messages like “we know where you live”, and a car was vandalized. Local members of the community said the authorities had been unable to provide enough security. It seems Nazi themed anti-Semitism is on the rise in some parts of Sweden. Isak Reichel, secretary general of Sweden’s central council of Jewish communities explains:

We’ve had problems with neo-Nazis in Gothenburg and Umea, but in other cities like Stockholm we feel safer

• Canada, in an effort to improve its cyber security industry has been taking a hint from Israel. Documents obtained by Canada’s National Post detail a series of meetings last September between the top members of Israel’s National Cyber Directorate, a unit inside the the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and senior federal government officials, including Daniel Jean, who is the national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Commentary/Analysis

• In the wake of a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Syria, Israeli columnist Marc Schulman writes in Newsweek that Israel should take a more active role. But (self-interest aside) what role could Israel realistically play that would have a meaningful effect on the safety of civilians? These are difficult questions, both practically and morally, and it’s easier to ask them than to answer them.

• YNet’s Ben-Dror Yemini responds to Richard Gere’s statements about Israel and Palestinians of several weeks ago, saying what while Gere’s humanitarian intentions may have been good, his lack of any effort to truly understand the situation has rendered his statements no more than a perpetuation of familiar lies and rejectionism. Gere’s visit to Hebron was guided by Breaking the Silence, an agenda oriented activist group that is highly critical of Israel.

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

Zalman Shoval: The lessons of the Arab summit
– Ariel Ben Solomon: Is Iran a Paper Tiger?
Rafael Medoff: American Jewish Committee Lobbied US to Cover Palestinian Authority’s Unpaid Bills

 

Featured image: CC BY Phil Roeder;

 

For more, see yesterday’s Israel Daily News Stream and join the IDNS on Facebook.

 

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