Weekend long read

1) Writing at Tablet Magazine, Howard Jacobson asserts that “the reaction to a rescinded European literary award exposes the hypocrisy of cultural boycotts”.

“Whatever BDS means to achieve it is not subtle in its grasp of the rights and wrongs, the causes and the consequences, of Israel’s conflict with its neighbors. Not subtle in its penetration of how things stand for all parties. Not at pains to be evenhanded where evenhandedness might prove fruitful. And not far-seeing in securing the political well-being of actual Palestinians. But these are practical, and some would say desperate, considerations and as such might just be permitted to slip past the vigilance of moral rectitude and intellectual rigor.”

2) Reuel Marc Gerecht of the FDD discusses “The Israeli–Palestinian Struggle, Continued”.

“There is no chance of a “peace party” returning to Jerusalem unless Israelis see that Palestinians have unequivocally denounced the past, that the celebrations of those who’ve died killing Israelis are rejected.   That is impossible to envision in the near-term:  neither Fatah, nor Hamas, nor the Israelis, nor Washington want the Palestinian people voting.  All fear the worst—the wrong side winning.  Perhaps most perversely, the Israelis are invested in a security status quo with Fatah that likely negates the chance of any Palestinian change, and surely makes Hamas more popular on the West Bank than its tyranny in Gaza has earned.  But it’s possible that if there were a free vote among Palestinians the hostility towards Israelis—the fundamental rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state—could be the common denominator among Palestinians who otherwise loathe Fatah’s and Hamas’ dictatorships.  Palestinians again voting could lead to intense violence, among Palestinians and against Israelis.  Nonetheless, Palestinian popular sovereignty is likely the only way out of this cul-de-sac.”

3) Also at the FDD, David Adesnik and Andrew Gabel report on the opening of a border crossing between Syria and Iraq. 

“Syria and Iraq on Monday formally opened a key border crossing that lies along the principal route of Iran’s emerging land bridge to the Mediterranean via Baghdad and Damascus. The opening threatens to increase the volume of weapons and materiel that Iran can move across the bridge as part of its effort to establish a dominant position in the Levant. […]

The al-Qaim-Albu Kamal border crossing has unique strategic value for Iran, since the other two official crossings between Iraq and Syria are under the control of U.S. or U.S.-aligned forces. To the southwest, U.S. troops and local partners have secured al-Tanf, while Ya’rubiyah to the northeast is in the hands of Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies.”

4) At the BESA Center, Dr. Doron Itzchakov takes a look at the Iraqi militias.

“The recent assaults on the militia bases of al-Hashd al-Sha’abi raise questions about Iraq’s future. Despite the Iraqi PM’s ultimatum demanding that the militias, which operate under the Iranian umbrella, integrate into the Iraqi military apparatus, a number of them are not complying, which could have implications for Iraqi sovereignty.”

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BBC News whitewashes one terror group, uncritically quotes another

Hot on the heels of some superficial BBC reporting on alleged Israeli strikes in Iraq, Syria and Beirut came another BBC News website report on August 26th with the headline “‘Israeli strikes’ target Palestinian group in Lebanon”.

That “Palestinian group” was no less euphemistically described as a “militant group” in the article’s opening lines.

“The Israeli military carried out air strikes on a Palestinian militant group backed by Syria’s government in eastern Lebanon overnight, Lebanese media say.

A position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command near Qusaya was hit, the state-run National News Agency reported.

The group responded with a barrage of anti-aircraft fire, it added.”

The PFLP-GC is listed as a terrorist organisation by several countries including the UK.

The BBC’s new editorial guidelines state that:

“11.2.6 Any proposal to approach an organisation (or an individual member of an organisation) designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the Home Secretary under the Terrorism Acts, and any proposal to approach individuals or organisations responsible for acts of terror, to participate in our output must be referred in advance to Director Editorial Policy and Standards.”

Interestingly the article went on: [emphasis added]

“The National News Agency reported that Israel carried out three air strikes on the outskirts of Qusaya, a village in the Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, early on Monday.

A top official from the PFLP-GC told the BBC that a drone carried out the raid.

There were no reports of any casualties and the Israeli military did not comment.”

BBC audiences were told that:

“The PFLP-GC has been operating in Lebanon for decades and has close ties to the Syrian government, whose forces it has supported in the country’s eight-year civil war along with Hezbollah.”

In fact:

“During the Syrian civil war the PFLP-GC was operated by the Syrian army. Its fighters also enlisted in the ranks of the al-Quds Brigade. The organization’s main theater of operations was the al-Yarmouk refugee camp south of Damascus. Ahmed Jibril, interviewed by Syrian TV, said his organization had fought in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp although it had limited means. He said more than 100 of his fighters had been killed in combat and about 300 had been wounded (Syrian TV, June 10, 2013). His organization, and other Palestinian organizations operated by the Syrian regime in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp, were unsuccessful and most of the camp fell into the hands of ISIS.”

The report went on to quote a PFLP-GC official speaking to a Hizballah-linked media outlet:

“This aggression is a continuation of what happened in Beirut and a provocative attempt that is a direct reaction to Nasrallah’s statements,” Khaled Jibril, a PFLP-GC official, told al-Mayadeen TV.”

“What happened in Beirut” refers to an alleged incident the previous day. As was the case in the BBC’s previous reporting on that story, this article too gave generous but completely uncritical amplification to some far-fetched claims from Hizballah.

“On Sunday, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement accused Israel of trying to carry out a drone attack in Beirut.

After two drones came down in the capital, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said its fighters would shoot down any drones that entered Lebanese airspace. […]

Early on Sunday, two drones that the Lebanese army said were Israeli crashed in the southern Beirut district of Dahia, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

One of the drones hit a building that houses Hezbollah’s media office, while the other exploded and crashed nearby, causing material damage.

Again, no-one was injured and Israel declined to comment.

“What happened… was an attack with a suicide drone,” Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech later on Sunday. “This is the accurate description.”

The Hezbollah leader called it a “very, very, very dangerous development” and a “clear breach of the rules of engagement” established after the month-long war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.”

The BBC of course did not bother to inform readers that under those so-called “rules of engagement” – i.e. UN SC resolution 1701 – there should be “no authority other than that of the Government of Lebanon” and that previous accords pertaining to “the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon” should have been implemented. Neither were readers told that Hizballah is funded and supplied with weapons (also in violation of that same UN resolution) by a foreign power.

The article continued with more uncritical amplification of quotes from Nasrallah’s speech as well as from the Lebanese president and prime minister (who are of course well aware that their country is held to ransom by the Iranian backed terror group) before unquestioningly promoting what the BBC undoubtedly knows to be a blatant falsehood from Nasrallah:

“Hassan Nasrallah also said the Israeli air strikes south-west of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Saturday had hit a Hezbollah rest house and not a military facility.”

The article closed with the BBC’s usual unnecessarily qualified portrayal of Iranian activities and more amplification of claims from Iranian assets in Iraq.

“Israel has been so concerned by what it calls Iran’s “military entrenchment” in Syria and shipments of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah that it has conducted hundreds of air strikes in an attempt to thwart them since 2011.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the powerful Iranian-backed paramilitary Popular Mobilisation force again accused Israel of what it said was a drone attack near the Syrian border in Anbar province on Sunday that killed two of its members.”

In other words BBC audiences reading this article found a tepid and euphemistic portrayal of the PFLP-GC terror group along with uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated claims and utter falsehoods from the leader of another terrorist organisation proscribed by the UK government.

Quite how the BBC can claim that such coverage will “build people’s understanding” of the story is beyond belief.

Related Articles:

Superficial BBC reporting on incidents in Syria and Lebanon

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

 

BBC editorial standards bypassed in Radio 4 framing of Iraq story

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on accuracy begin with a section titled ‘Gathering Material’.

“3.3.2 In news and current affairs content, achieving due accuracy is more important than speed.

3.3.3 We should try to witness events and gather information first-hand. Where this is not possible, we should talk to first-hand sources and, where practicable, corroborate their evidence.

3.3.4 We should be reluctant to rely on a single source. If we do rely on a single source, it should be credible, and a named, on-the-record source is always preferable.”

A later section titled “Material from Third Parties” states:

“3.3.13 Material supplied by third parties, including news providers, needs to be treated with appropriate caution, taking account of the reputation of the source.

We should normally only rely on an agency report if it can be substantiated by a BBC correspondent or if it is attributed to a reputable news agency.

We should only use other material supplied by third parties if it is credible and reliable.”

A sub-section titles “Sources” flags up criteria indicating the need for a “Mandatory Referral”: [emphasis added]

“Any proposal to rely on a single unnamed source making a serious allegation […] must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice, who will consider whether or not:

    • the story is of significant public interest 
    • the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured
    • a serious allegation was made or substantiated off the record
    • a response to serious allegations has been sought”

And:

“When the allegations have not been independently corroborated, we should consider if it is appropriate to inform the audience.”

On August 22nd the New York Times published a report which claimed that:

“Two senior American officials…said that Israel had carried out several strikes in recent days on munitions storehouses for Iranian-backed groups in Iraq.”

The New York Times did not identify those “two senior American officials” or provide any information concerning their qualification to comment on the matter. It is therefore difficult to believe that the BBC could have ensured that “the source is of proven credibility and reliability and in a position to have sufficient knowledge of the events featured” or that the corporation ensured that the allegations made were “independently corroborated”.

Nevertheless, on August 23rd the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ aired an item which was introduced by presenter Ritula Shah (from 36:36 here) as follows: [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

Shah: “Reports from US officials in American news outlets say that Israel carried out an air strike on a weapons depot in Iraq, which officials say is being used by Iran to move weapons to Syria. It appears to be a significant escalation in Israel’s campaign against what it sees as Iranian military assets in Iraq and could destabilise the country.”

Note the framing there: Radio 4 listeners are told that it would be any Israeli action to counter the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria via Iraq which “could destabilise” the latter country rather than the transfer of weapons itself or the presence of Iranian assets in Iraqi militias.

Shah then introduced her sole interviewee – without clarifying that she is not a military correspondent – and while claiming that third hand statements – unverified by the BBC – from anonymous sources constitute “confirmation”.

Shah: “Let’s speak to Allison Kaplan Sommer who is a journalist at the Left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haretz [sic]. Ahm, just what does…what does this tell us that the confirmation of these air strikes have come from US sources?”

Towards the end of the nearly four and a half minute-long item, Shah returned to her earlier framing.

Shah: “…this is believed to be the first Israeli bombing in Iraq in nearly four decades. Do you think that this is a dangerous opening up of a new front?”

When this story first broke the BBC News website promoted unsubstantiated claims concerning Israeli involvement from an inadequately identified senior Iranian asset. The following day those claims were slightly walked back in another report.

Now we see the BBC using anonymous and uncorroborated claims published by another media outlet to promote the framing of the story it obviously wishes to amplify – with blatant disregard for its own editorial standards.

Related Articles:

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

BBC News promotes Iran loyalist’s unproven claims

On the evening of August 21st an article headlined “Iraq paramilitary force blames US and Israel for mystery blasts” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Its opening lines told BBC audiences that:

“A powerful Iran-backed paramilitary force in Iraq has said it holds the US responsible for a series of blasts at its bases in recent weeks.

The deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation, which is dominated by Shia militias, alleged that US forces had brought four Israeli drones into the country to target its positions.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said the force would use “all means at its disposal” to prevent and deter future attacks.”

The BBC did not subsequently provide any evidence to support the allegation that it chose to amplify but it did take make sure to inform readers that:

“Last year, Israel’s then defence minister suggested that it might attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done repeatedly in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war.

When asked by reporters on Monday about the explosions in Iraq, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Iran has no immunity, anywhere.”

“We will act – and currently are acting – against them, wherever it is necessary.””

BBC audiences had to read down to the article’s closing paragraphs in order to find any information which might help them judge the reliability – and possible motives – of the source of the unevidenced claim it elected to amplify.

“The Popular Mobilisation’s fighters played a key role in the war against IS.

With the help of Iranian military advisers, weapons and funding, they prevented IS militants reaching Baghdad in 2014 and later helped Iraqi security forces regain control of the country.

The US, which also supported Iraqi security forces against IS, has said several of the Shia militias in the Popular Mobilisation are directly controlled by Iran. It has accused the militias of targeting US diplomatic facilities in Iraq and warned that they may have been given Iranian ballistic missiles.”

As Jonathan Spyer noted in July when the Iraqi prime minister announced that the Shia militias of the Popular Mobilisation Units were to be integrated into the Iraqi security forces: [emphasis added]

“The Shia militias are the main instrument of Iranian policy on Iraqi soil.  Not all groups involved in the 150,000 strong PMU are Iran-linked, but the largest and most consequential groupings are. These include the Badr organization, led by Hadi al-Ameri, Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Asaib ahl-al Haq, and Hizballah al-Nujaba.

All the above mentioned groupings are franchises of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). All were established by and are controlled by Iran, answering directly to the IRGC’s Qods Force and its leader, General Qassem Soleimani.”

The BBC failed to inform readers that, in addition to being “the deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation”, its quoted source is – as documented by the FDD – also a senior commander in Ktaeb Hizballah.

“Kataib Hezbollah is a relatively small Iraqi Shiite militia that serves as a vehicle through which the IRGC-Quds Force projects power in Iraq. […] its chief, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, is currently Iraq’s deputy national security adviser as well as an operational leader of the PMF. Born in Basra in 1953, Muhandis has worked for decades with the IRGC, including his participation in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait that killed six and injured 90 others.

Muhandis is the de-facto deputy of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani in Iraq; the Iranian general has called Muhandis a “living martyr.” Kataib Hezbollah was among the earliest Iraqi groups to dispatch fighters to Syria, where it helped organize groups including Liwa Abu-Fadl al-Abbas, a militia composed of Iraqi Shiites. In 2015, a Kataib Hezbollah official told the Washington Post that Kataib Hezbollah had sent 1,000 fighters to Aleppo in response to a direct request by Soleimani. Along with other Iranian-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah has begun to fill the power vacuum created by the fall of the Islamic State caliphate.”

The BBC closed its article with references to Muhandis (who was indeed designated by the US a decade ago) and his militia but failed to inform readers of the connection between them.

“The US has designated one of the militias in the Popular Mobilisation, Kataiib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), as a terrorist organisation.

It has also listed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as a “specially designated global terrorist”. It alleges that he advises Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and that he has been involved in the bombings of Western embassies and attempted assassinations in the region.”

In other words, the BBC chose to unquestioningly amplify unproven allegations concerning explosions at arms depots in Iraq made by one of Iran’s senior operatives in that country.  

 

 

Weekend long read

1) Writing at the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Spyer reviews the current situation in Syria.

‘The international news focus has long moved on from the Syrian conflict. Behind the oft-stated clichés of the conflict “winding down” and of regime survival or victory, however, a complex and often deadly reality remains. […]

Assad regime apologists have sought for a long period to present a view of the war in which the status quo antebellum was in the process of being restored. This image does not entirely correspond to reality. Assad, with Iran and Russia, controls around 60% of the territory of Syria. The area east of the Euphrates controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces constitutes roughly 30% of Syria. The Turkish-guaranteed Sunni Islamist area in the northwest covers the remaining 10%.’

2) At the ITIC, Raz Zimmt takes a look at an Iranian charity.

‘“The Foundation of the Oppressed” is the largest charitable foundation in Iran and the second largest economic entity in the country. Since the late 1980s, the Foundation of the Oppressed has become a large economic holding company controlling firms and groups in the sectors of services, industry, mining, energy, construction and agriculture. The Foundation operates under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader Khamenei and maintains a tight working relationship with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The Foundation plays a central role in Iran’s efforts to expand its economic role in Iraq and Syria, as a lever to entrench its influence in the region. At this stage, the Foundation of the Oppressed and firms operating under it are not under American sanctions, and it is unclear whether the recently announced sanctions against the office of the Supreme Leader will include this foundation too.’

3) Also at the ITIC, a report on the new Albukamal Border Crossing.

‘The new border crossing between Syria and Iraq at Albukamal is considered strategically important by Iran. That is because the crossing is vital for the land bridge Iran seeks to construct between its territory and the Mediterranean Sea. The route allows Iran to send forces, supplies and weapons through Iraq to Syria and from there to Lebanon. It can be assumed that Iran is of the opinion that the land bridge will enable it to reduce its dependence on risky aerial and naval routes. The new crossing, when it opens, will enable larger numbers of vehicles to enter Syria and make it easier to preserve secrecy (since it is farther from residential buildings). Therefore it is likely that the new crossing is being constructed with Iranian aid, and possibly with Iranian involvement. In addition, Iran participates in securing the area between Albukamal in Syria and al-Qa’im in Iraq by using Shi’ite militias deployed permanently in the region.’

4) The Press Gazette reports the NUJ’s reaction to the BBC’s recent agreement to reporting restrictions imposed by Iran.

‘The morale of BBC Persian journalists has been “deeply affected” by a management decision to abide by reporting restrictions in exchange for access to Iran, the National Union of Journalists has claimed. […]

The union said the “professional integrity” of BBC Persian journalists “has been undermined” by the move. Iranian authorities continue to target journalists at the London-based news service in a bid to silence them.’

 

 

Weekend long read

1) At Mosaic magazine Professor Eugene Kontorovich explains “The Many Incoherences and Hypocrisies of International Law on Jerusalem”.

“Under the uti possidetis principle, then, Israel’s borders at the moment of independence are quite clear: the borders of Mandatory Palestine. Those borders include all of Jerusalem, and Judea and Samaria as well. The UN, in its thousands of resolutions to the contrary, flagrantly ignores that principle.

This conclusion is not affected by the UN General Assembly’s partition proposal, adopted as Resolution 181 in November 1947, that provided for the formation in Palestine of two states, Jewish and Arab, with the city of Jerusalem designated a separate internationally-administered entity (the corpus separatum). That is not only because the UN proposal was a non-binding recommendation, but because, having been rejected by the Arabs, it was never implemented and did not in fact result in a partition of the Mandate. Uti possidetis goes by the prior administrative borders as they were, not as they might at various times have been imagined to be.”

2) MEMRI documents the broader background to a speech from a senior Hamas figure which was recently ignored by the BBC: “Hamas Official Fathi Hamad’s Speech Was No Exception”.

“After a July 12, 2019 speech by Hamas political bureau member Fathi Hammad urging Palestinians to kill Jews all over the world sparked outrage, Hamas issued a clarification stating that his statements did not reflect the movement’s official positions and that Hamas’s struggle is against the occupation, not against Jews around the world or the Jewish faith.

However, MEMRI publications from the past two years show that statements by Hamas members and officials, and content published by Hamas’s official media, have been rife with antisemitism. […]

It should be mentioned that all of these statements were made after Hamas published its May 1, 2017 policy document aimed at presenting the movement as pragmatic, democratic, and tolerant. This document was also aimed at distancing the movement from the antisemitic statements that appear in its charter (although it does not supersede the charter), by stating that Hamas does not fight the Jews as such, but only the Zionist occupation.”

3) The ITIC takes a look at a topic serially under reported by the BBC – “Summer Camps in the Gaza Strip”.

“In the past UNRWA organized and funded some of the summer activities for the children in the Gaza Strip. However, in recent years UNRWA suspended its activities because of financial problems. The vacuum was filled by Hamas and the PIJ, which increased their summer camp activities accordingly. In the past Hamas summer camps were organized by the ministries of education and the interior. However, in recent years, with the formal addition of military training to the high school curriculum (“al-Futuwwa”), organizing the summer camps was turned over to the military wings of Hamas and the PIJ (to continue al-Futuwwa training). Apparently the transition had a direct influence on the summer camps’ programs and more emphasis is currently placed on indoctrination and paramilitary training. […]

Hamas’ summer camps are expected to open on July 20, 2019. The camps, called Pioneers of Liberation, are supervised by Hamas’ military wing, and their theme is “Going to Jerusalem”.”

4) Jonathan Spyer analyses the Iraqi prime minister’s announcement of the integration of Shia militias into the Iraqi security forces. 

“The Shia militias are the main instrument of Iranian policy on Iraqi soil.  Not all groups involved in the 150,000 strong PMU are Iran-linked, but the largest and most consequential groupings are.  These include the Badr organization, led by Hadi al-Ameri,  Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Asaib ahl-al Haq, and Hizballah al-Nujaba.

All the above mentioned groupings are franchises of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). All were established by and are controlled by Iran, answering directly to the IRGC’s Qods Force and its leader, General Qassem Soleimani. […]

The militias are powerful players – politically, militarily and economically.  Prime Minister Adel Abd al Mehdi, meanwhile, is a weak figure with no real power base of its own.  Iraq is not a country ruled by law.  The prime minister as a result simply possesses no coercive mechanism for imposing his will on the Shia militias.  He can order their dissolution if he so wishes.  The result will be the further enmeshing and fusing of the militias with the official bodies of the state – without the ceding by the latter of their own vital chain of command.  This chain of command leads to Qassem Soleimani, and thence to the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.”

 

Weekend long read

1) Jonathan Spyer looks at “The Fall of the Caliphate”.

“Even as the global media watch the last stand of the diehards at Baghouz, ISIS has already shifted its own focus. The intention is to build an infrastructure that will then, at the opportune moment, strike again in the cities of Iraq, and Syria, too.

 The reason this, or a rival Sunni Islamist project, is likely to once again emerge to prominence is that the final twilight of the caliphate at Baghouz will not settle any of the issues that led to its emergence, and of which it was a symptom.

 The main butcher of civilians over the last decade in the area in question has been the Assad regime.”

2) The ITIC documents “Reactions to Britain’s decision to ban Hezbollah”.

“Hezbollah responded formally to the decision on March 1, 2019, after the British Parliament approved it. Hezbollah vehemently rejected the accusations of terrorism “which the British government had fabricated” and stressed that the organization was a “resistance movement” against the Israeli occupation. The announcement attacks Britain, perceiving it as a “proxy in the ranks of the American patron.” The announcement stresses that Hezbollah would continue to “defend Lebanon, its liberty and its independence.””

3) At the INSS, Pnina Sharvit Baruch analyses “The Violent Events along the Gaza-Israel Border: The Report of the Commission of Inquiry of the Human Rights Council”.

“The report claims that the demonstrations were civilian in nature, had clearly stated political aims, and despite some acts of significant violence, did not constitute combat or a military campaign. Israel, however, contends that one cannot view the events as peaceful demonstrations within a state, since these were violent riots taking place along the border between two entities engaged in an armed conflict, organized and led by one of those parties, i.e., Hamas. The huge gap between the positions of Israel and the COI stems mainly from the fact that the report adopts entirely the viewpoint of the Palestinian victims, with no regard to the complex reality of the situation and to the ramifications of the armed conflict between Israel and Hamas.”

4) At the Tablet, Israel’s former state archivist Yaacov Lozowick writes about a topic the BBC has covered in the past in an article titled “The Myth of the Kidnapped Yemenite Children, and the Sin It Conceals”.

“In May 2016 we told the cabinet that we would gladly unseal the files, if they gave a green light. The cabinet appointed Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to oversee our efforts; Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked sent a top official to assist in redefining the rules of privacy in as liberal a manner as the lawyers could dare, in order to enable our efforts.

We scanned hundreds of thousands of pages in a few days, recruited dozens of students to speed the process and implemented an advanced knowledge management system. Thousands of files were closely examined, and mostly opened. The full archives went online at the end of December 2016. […]

There are no documents that tell or even hint at a governmental policy of kidnapping children for adoption. Not one.” 

 

 

 

Weekend long read

1) The ITIC has published an assessment of “The impact of the withdrawal of the American troops from Syria on the campaign against ISIS“.

“From a military perspective, the end of American activity in Syria is liable to be detrimental to the campaign currently being waged by the Kurdish forces east of the Euphrates against last important ISIS-controlled area in Syria. The blow is expected to be particularly hard if America stops its aerial support to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). However, in ITIC assessment, the most serious impact of the American pullout is expected to be its influence on morale and the political situation: the Kurds, who control extensive areas in the northeastern part of the country, feel betrayed and their cohesiveness may be harmed. Thus they can be expected to look for new strategic support, especially from the Syrian regime and Russia. The Kurds’ motivation to continue fighting ISIS may be reduced and they may retreat to the heart of their area of control in northeastern Syria and stop clearing the lower Euphrates Valley of ISIS fighters.”

2) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at the Turkish aspect of the withdrawal of US forces from Syria.

“The contradiction between the western attempt to appease Turkey, and the tentatively emergent strategy vis-a-vis Syria had been apparent for some months. It now looked set to be resolved – one way or the other.

If the US indeed now follows through with the rapid withdrawal of the American military presence in Syria in its entirety, as a number of news outlets have reported and the President appears to have confirmed, then we have an answer. It means that the US has indeed blinked first, and is set on reversing course in Syria – by embarking on a hurried exit from the country. This will be interpreted by all sides as a strategic defeat, an abandonment under pressure of allies, and a debacle.”

3) MEMRI reports on recent criticism of Hizballah in Lebanon.

“Since the parliamentary elections in May 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister and Al-Mustaqbal movement leader Sa’d Al-Hariri has been trying to form a national unity government incorporating all the major political forces in Lebanon, including Hizbullah. His efforts have so far been unsuccessful, however, partly due to steep conditions presented by Hizbullah regarding the government’s makeup, mainly its demand to appoint a Sunni minister from the March 8 Forces, the faction led by Hizbullah. […]

This political crisis, which has been ongoing for over six months, has evoked furious responses from Lebanese politicians and columnists, who accuse Hizbullah of serving Iranian interests at the expense of Lebanon’s, and also of using its weapons to take over Lebanon and of subordinating it to Iranian patronage. The bleak political climate even cast a pall over Lebanon’s 75th Independence Day, marked on November 22, with some calling not to celebrate it because Lebanon is not truly independent. Criticism was also directed at President Michel ‘Aoun and at his son-in-law, Foreign Minister Gebral Bassil, both of them Hizbullah allies, for allowing Hizbullah to effectively control the country.”

4) At the JCPA Amb. Alan Baker discusses “Electing the Palestinian Attorney-General to the ICC Nominations Committee for Judges“.

“The election of the Palestinian Attorney-General, Dr. Ahmad Barrak, to serve as a member of the “Advisory Committee on Nominations” of judges of the International Criminal Court, if it were not so serious, could be seen as comical. It cannot but invoke the ancient Latin maxim “ovem lupo commitere,” or in its literal and colloquial version “to set the wolf to guard the sheep.”

This perhaps sums up the acute absurdity to which respected international institutions in the international community, and particularly the United Nations and the International Criminal Court, have descended. Sadly, they have permitted themselves to be abused and manipulated by an irresponsible Palestinian leadership, intent on hijacking international organizations for obvious and blatant political purposes. 

However, the election of a Palestinian representative to the judges’ Nominations Committee, as unwise and ill-advised as it may be, is indicative of a far wider and more serious problem facing the International Criminal Court, with the admission of what purports to be “The State of Palestine” as a party to its Statute.”

 

Weekend long read

1) At the JNS Yaakov Lappin takes a look at a story which long since dropped off the BBC’s radar – Egypt’s campaign against the ISIS branch in Sinai.

“With security threats to Israel from Iran and Hezbollah along the northern borders, and Hamas and other terror elements in the Gaza Strip to the south often receiving the lion’s share of public attention, the activities of the Islamic State-affiliated terror group state in the large Sinai Peninsula are often overlooked.

However, efforts by Egypt, along with quiet reported Israeli support, to crack down on the group appear to be making significant progress. Although a large-scale counter-terrorism operation has not eliminated the threat, it has greatly reduced it, a senior Israeli defense analyst told JNS.”

2) The ITIC provides a “Profile of Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the New Palestinian Islamic Jihad Leader“.

“On September 28, 2018, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) spokesman Da’ud Shehab announced the election of Ziyad al-Nakhalah as secretary general. Al-Nakhalah, the organization’s third leader, replaced Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, who has been in a coma for the past six months (following a series of strokes). The PIJ is Iran’s preferred proxy in the internal Palestinian arena. Ziyad al-Nakhalah, who has strong connections with Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Qods Force, plays a central role in foster and promoting the PIJ’s collaboration with Iran. Therefore it can be expected that under al-Nakhalah’s leadership the PIJ will continue to promote Iran’s interests in the Gaza Strip and in the internal Palestinian arena in general; and in return the PIJ will profit from generous Iranian financial and military support, which will help it preserve its status as the second most important terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip (after Hamas).”

3) At the INSS Gilead Sher and Mor Ben-Kalifa discuss the “Challenge to the Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty“.

“One year prior to the automatic renewal of the annex to the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty, King Abdullah announced that Jordan would not renew the special regime governing the areas of Naharayim and Zofar for another twenty-five years. Jordan, he said, will impose its sovereignty fully over these areas. The dire socio-economic and demographic situation in Jordan, coupled with the intensifying grass-roots protests throughout the Hashemite kingdom and the political deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has heightened public pressure on King Abdullah to cancel the peace treaty, whether in part or in its entirety. Over the years, Israeli-Jordanian relations have weathered ups and downs, but the parties succeeded in overcoming even the most extreme crises. The profound common interests that Jordan and Israel have shared for decades may help in overcoming the current challenge – provided that the crisis is handled promptly through covert dialogue, far from the spotlight.”

4) Jonathan Spyer takes a look at “The Return of ISIS“.

“So IS as an organization has survived the successful US-led destruction of the quasi-state it created in 2014.  It has a leadership structure, money, fighters, weaponry and it is currently constructing a network of support in Sunni Arab areas of Iraq and Syria. These areas take in territory under the nominal control of the government of Iraq, the US-aligned Syrian Democratic Forces and the Assad regime.  Small scale attacks have already begun in some areas. The return of the Islamic State in the dimensions it reached in the summer of 2014 does not look likely or imminent.  But the prospects of an IS-led ongoing Sunni insurgency, with roots deep in the Sunni Arab outlying areas of Syria, Iraq and the border between them is an increasingly likely prospect.  The Caliphate may be in ruins.  But Islamic State is back.”

Weekend long read

1) The JCPA has a report on part of the background to a story covered by the BBC last week.

“Deadly riots in Iraq’s southern city of Basra erupted following protests waged by the local population that have been going on since early July 2018. The turmoil worsened after the governor of Basra ordered troops to use live bullets against the protesters. Rioters stormed the provincial government building on September 4, 2018, and set it ablaze.

The cause of discontent is the crumbling and obsolete state of the local infrastructures. Today, the blame is directed mainly against the failing water infrastructure, which is causing plague-like conditions in the local population: according to the news from Basra between 500 to 600 individuals are admitted to emergency rooms daily because of water poisoning accompanied by skin diseases. Some 17,000 intestinal infection cases due to water contamination were recorded, according to Basra health authorities. Hospitals are unable to cope with the flow of the sick, nor do the authorities know how to deal with the spreading diseases and the threat of cholera.”

2) At the INSS Oded Eran takes a look at “The Idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation, Revisited“.

“In the quest for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the idea of a Jordanian-Palestinian federation/confederation, which has been raised from time to time, has recently resurfaced. In a September 2, 2018 meeting between Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen and a group of Israelis, the Palestinian leader said that the idea was raised by the US team engaged in the effort to renew the negotiations between the parties and formulate a proposal for a settlement. Beyond the major question regarding the Palestinians’ political and legal status in the American proposal, a confederation model, particularly one involving Jordan, the Palestinians, and Israel, creates a possibility for “creative solutions” to issues related to economies, energy, and water. A trilateral framework of this nature may also facilitate solutions that include relinquishing elements of sovereignty for the sake of the confederation.”

3) Jonathan Spyer discusses the situation in northern Syria.

“Before the civil war, Syria’s Kurds were among the most severely oppressed, and among the most invisible minorities, of the Middle East. Numbering between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of the pre-war Syrian population, they were prevented from educating or even naming their children in their native language. A section of the Kurdish population was deprived of travel and passport rights. Some, the so-called maktoumeen (unrecorded), lacked even citizenship and access to education.

The emergence of a de facto Kurdish enclave following the withdrawal by the Assad regime from a swath of the county’s north in 2012 changed all this. The enclave successfully defended itself against an early attempt by the rebels to destroy it. In 2014 the Kurds formed a de facto alliance with the US and the West in the war against Islamic State. This war, along with the regime’s (and Russia and Iran’s) war against the rebels, now is in its closing stages.”

4) The ITIC reports on recent violent power struggles in eastern Syria.

“In August 2018, several cities in the Euphrates Valley witnessed violent clashes between the Syrian army and Syrian militias affiliated with it on the one hand, and Shiite militias handled by Iran on the other. The clashes took place in the region between Albukamal and Deir ezZor, and both sides sustained dozens of casualties. In the background, there were violent power struggles and conflicts on the extortion of money from local residents, mainly by collecting “crossing fees” in return for the use of crossings between the two banks of the Euphrates River. During the clashes, attempts were made to find local solutions to defuse the situation: the militias were supposed to stop running the crossings and the Russian Military Police was supposed to take their place. However, since late August 2018, the clashes stopped and a reconciliation committee was convened in the city of Albukamal, to resolve the conflicts.”