Friday, October 18, 2019

From Ian:

Trump Envoy Kushner to Visit Israel at End of Month to Assess Possibility of Unveiling Long-Awaited Peace Plan
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner will visit Israel at the end of the month in preparation for unveiling the administration’s “deal of the century” plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The Israeli news site Walla reported that Kushner will likely meet with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, to assess the political situation in Israel, which is currently in flux as neither Netanyahu nor Gantz appears currently able to form a government following September’s Knesset elections.

If it takes place, this would be Kushner’s first meeting with Gantz. The Trump administration, which is widely perceived as staunchly pro-Netanyahu, avoided meeting Gantz until just after the September vote, when US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman did so for the first time.

Trump had planned to reveal his peace plan in January, but held off due to pending Israeli elections in April, which proved inconclusive, prompting another delay until a second round of elections. These also resulted in no clear winner, forcing the administration to postpone the release of the plan again until a governing coalition could be formed, a possibility that looks remote at the moment.
Pompeo to ‘Post’: Israel has right to act in Syria, U.S. will stop Iran
Despite the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Israel retains operational freedom to defend itself and America remains committed to closely watching the Iraqi-Syrian border to help prevent the transfer of Iranian arms into the country, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told The Jerusalem Post on Friday in an exclusive interview.

“Our administration’s been very clear,” he said. “Israel has the fundamental right to engage in activity that ensures the security of its people. It’s at the very core of what nation states not only have the right to do but an obligation to do.”

Regarding the Iraqi-Syrian border, which Israeli intelligence believes is used by Iran to smuggle weapons into Syria and Hezbollah, Pompeo said that American forces would continue to watch the area closely.

“The president has committed to continuing that activity that the US has been engaged in now for a couple of years and is aimed at countering ISIS and providing us situational awareness in the region,” he said. “We know this is a corner where Iran has attempted to move weapon systems across into Syria, into Lebanon, that threatens Israel and we are going to do everything we can to make sure we have the capacity to identify those so that we can collectively respond appropriately.”

Pompeo spoke to the Post in Jerusalem shortly after completing a two-hour meeting Friday morning with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Yossi Cohen. He was accompanied to the meeting by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and James Jeffrey, the US special envoy on Syria. Pompeo arrived in Israel a day after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who agreed to a five-day ceasefire to allow Kurdish forces to evacuate the border region.

Israeli politicians and defense officials have raised concerns that the US pullout from Syria will strengthen Iran. Pompeo dismissed that possibility and said that the administration remained committed – like it has been – to stopping Iran and preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons. He said that all options were on the table in the event that Iran broke out toward a bomb.
The Recent Deterioration in Syria May Break Israel’s Political Deadlock
If Benjamin Netanyahu fails to form a governing coalition by October 24, President Reuven Rivlin will have to choose between granting him a two-week extension or, more likely, giving Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party a chance to form a coalition. As of last week, coalition negotiations had stalled, but in the past few days several parties began making conciliatory gestures. Vivian Bercovici explains why:

[T]he deliverance from the present national stasis may have come in the form of White House chaos. Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria has plunged the region into a new round of volatility and chaos. . . . Trump’s erratic conduct seems to have jolted Israeli leadership into a more wakeful state of mind, and catalyzed discussions around the possibility of a unity coalition being formed imminently.

The jarringly abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria and the ensuing mayhem present a critical security challenge to Israel. Suddenly, . . . we heard grudging rumblings: that Blue and White will sit with Likud under Netanyahu’s leadership and “hold its nose”; that the ultra-Orthodox parties are even grumbling along the same lines and may sit with Blue and White and Avigdor Liberman’s [right wing, but staunchly secularist] Yisrael Beytenu.

There are now reports of further discussion to cobble together a quick governing coalition in order that the country may function, primarily because of the increasingly volatile and deteriorating regional security situation. The “compromise” being discussed is that there will be no legislation considered on matters of religion and state, in effect putting on ice, for the meantime, the root of the ongoing political impasse. However, . . . Benny Gantz dismissed the buzz as meaningless chatter.

Events in Syria and the region nonetheless may [still] stave off the surreal possibility of a third election in one year. The state needs a functioning government, and that imperative is more fundamental and important than any leader or party.

Netanyahu: Gantz planning government with backing of ‘dangerous’ Arab parties
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday charged that Blue and White leader Benny Gantz intends to form a minority government with outside support from the mostly Arab Joint List alliance, warning such a move would endanger Israel’s security.

Netanyahu, who is nearing the end of a period given to him to try, so far unsuccessfully, and form a government, appears to be returning to his election campaign stance of appearing to demonize the Arab parties and tar Gantz as a leftist.

In a post on his Facebook page, Netanyahu said that Gantz had rejected his offers for a unity government and charged that he, together with Blue and White number two Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman, had refused to rule out the minority government option.

“Establishing a minority government that relies on the Joint List is an anti-Zionist act that endangers our security,” Netanyahu wrote, accusing Joint List leaders Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi of supporting Palestinian terror and Hezbollah.
Members of the Joint List Ayman Odeh, left, and Ahmad Tibi consult with President Reuven Rivlin on who should form the the next government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on September 22, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

Netanyahu also accused Lapid and Liberman of “holding Gantz hostage” to their personal ambitions.

Liberman reacted to the post, saying it was a sign of Netanyahu’s “desperation,” and accused the prime minister of hypocrisy, saying he had a long history of cooperating with Arab parties.

Raphael Ahren: As US withdraws, Jerusalem spooked by Moscow’s growing control over Middle East
What does Russia’s takeover really mean for Israel? Some analysts are deeply concerned, fretting about the possibility that Moscow could use surface-to-air missiles against Israeli jets attacking Iranian targets in Syria, which would effectively end Jerusalem’s campaign against Tehran’s establishment of a military foothold near Israel’s border.

Others see in Russia’s new leadership role an opportunity, as it may make room for an Iranian-Israel modus vivendi that would prevent the shadow war between the two countries from escalating.

To analyze the implications of the new status quo for Israel, it is helpful to understand why Moscow is engaged in the Middle East in the first place, but even on this question experts differ.

Amos Yadlin, the head of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, told The Times of Israel he counts eight main reasons that “motivated Russian President Vladimir Putin to get involved in the Middle East:
1. To Make Russia Great Again;
2. To again become an influential power, after the US kept it out of Egypt (1973), Iraq (2003), Libya (2011) and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process;
3. To reduce the influence of the United States;
4. To play Middle Eastern cards in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine;
5. To control ports and air bases, something the tsar dreamed of;
6. To try out weapons developed by Russia in the past decade;
7. To save Syria’s Bashar Assad — and show the world that Russians don’t throw their allies under the bus.
8. To fight jihadists — in Syria and not in the Caucasus.

While Russia does not necessarily want to act as an “honest broker” between warring parties in the Middle East, it does seek to have good relations with everyone, Yadlin told The Times of Israel.

“All pairs of enemies in the Middle East enjoy reasonably good ties with Russia: Saudi Arabia and Iran, Israel and the Palestinians, the Kurds and the Turks, Israel and Iran, Egypt and Turkey, and so on.”

Russia should not be seen as a regional hegemon, Yadlin stressed. Rather, that title should be shared by Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. And even the Americans still have more forces in the Middle East than the Russians, said Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence.
Why Jews are particularly sympathetic to Kurds (Remembering Halabja)

Turkey agrees with US to pause Syria assault while Kurds withdraw
Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish forces withdraw from a "safe zone" Ankara had sought to capture, in a deal hailed by Washington but which Turkish leaders cast as a complete victory.

The truce was announced by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey's President Tayyip Erdoğan, and was swiftly hailed by President Donald Trump, who said it would save "millions of lives".

But if implemented it would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched the assault eight days ago: control of a strip of Syria more than 30 km (20 miles) deep, with the Kurdish YPG militia, formerly close US allies, obliged to pull out.

"The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces," a joint US-Turkish statement released after the talks said.

A Turkish official told Reuters Ankara got "exactly what we wanted" from the talks with the United States. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as a pause, solely to allow the Kurdish fighters to withdraw.
Shells Still Fall in Northeast Syria Despite Pause Agreement
Shelling could be heard at the Syrian-Turkish border on Friday morning despite a five-day ceasefire agreed between Turkey and the United States, and Washington said the deal covered only a small part of the territory Ankara aims to seize.

Reuters journalists at the border heard machine-gun fire and shelling and saw smoke rising from the Syrian border battlefield city of Ras al-Ain early on Friday, although the sounds of fighting later subsided by mid-morning.

The truce, announced on Thursday by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia withdraw from an area controlled by Turkish forces.

The SDF said air and artillery attacks continued to target its positions as well as civilian targets in Ral al-Ain: “Turkey is violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town since last night,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.

The deal was aimed at easing a crisis that saw President Donald Trump order a hasty and unexpected US retreat, which his critics say amounted to abandoning loyal Kurdish allies that fought for years alongside US troops against Islamic State.

Trump praised the deal, saying it would save “millions of lives.”

Turkey cast it as a complete victory in its campaign to control a strip of border territory hundreds of miles long and 20 miles (more than 30 kilometers) deep, including major Kurdish-held towns and cities.

But the US special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, said the agreement fell short of that aim, covering only an area where Turkish forces were already operating.
Syria: Endgame
The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence. It's a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values. —Pete Buttigieg, October 15

Mr. Mayor has a point. For 75 years, from Fulda Gap to the 38th Parallel, the American soldier has been the last line of defense against violence, chaos, and oppression. From Kosovo to Anbar, he has kept a lid on cauldrons of bloodlust. Remove him, and the poison boils over.

That is what happened when Congress reduced aid to South Vietnam in 1975. It is what followed U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. It is happening now in northeast Syria, and it will happen again when Americans leave Afghanistan. Our forces depart; our allies collapse; our adversaries take command.

The pattern was established well before Donald Trump took office. It will persist after he departs. There is nothing so consistent as American ambivalence toward our superpower status. Most great powers covet hegemony. We hate it. The costs are too high, the demands too stressful.

"For every exercise of the great power's prerogative, there has been an equally strong recoiling from the use of power," wrote Robert Kagan in A Twilight Struggle (1996). "While the United States cannot escape behaving as the hegemonic great power, it is also a great power with a democratic conscience, a strong anti-imperialist streak, and an unwillingness to adopt the role of policeman anywhere for more than a brief time."

Kagan was describing U.S. policy toward Nicaragua. He might as well have been talking about the Middle East.

Trump is getting America out of a country we were never really in. Our presence in Syria was not enough to deter Turkey. One thousand troops do not constitute a tripwire. They are chips in a high-stakes game. Erdogan called the bluff.
Troop Withdrawals in Afghanistan and Syria Are Guaranteed to Fail
The Trump administration has held numerous meetings with Taliban officials in an attempt to reach a compromise solution that would allow the United States to wind down its 18 years of military action in Afghanistan, while ensuring the country does not become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and now the Islamic State, to plot new attacks on the US and our allies or interests.

Donald Trump then announced that he had broken off these talks in the wake of a Taliban terrorist attack that killed a US soldier. The Taliban, however, is stalling for time, in the hope that Trump withdraws all US troops from Afghanistan unilaterally.

So how do we create a reasonable deal?

The sad reality is that there is that there is no chance of a compromise with Islamist terror organizations such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS — or the Muslim Brotherhood, from which they sprang. Either we decide to win, or we decide to lose.

Losing is easy: We simply withdraw our troops and let the Taliban take over most or all of Afghanistan, after which they will then return the population to the 7th century. There would be no political price to pay in the United States, where Middle East wars are not politically popular.

Winning, in contrast, is quite challenging. The Taliban has been funded and armed by Pakistan, Iran, Qatar, and other Gulf States, but we never forced those countries to stop this flow of funds, arms, and war materiel. Had the Bush and Obama administrations taken these measures, and committed the resources necessary to win the war in Afghanistan, the United States would likely have saved hundreds of billions of dollars, if not a trillion dollars, which could have been used on urgent domestic priorities, such as rebuilding America’s decaying infrastructure.
Syrian Kurds Seek Autonomy under Assad
Media commentators are in a spin over recent developments along the Turkish-Syrian border. For example, several are scratching their heads over the game plan that Russia’s President Putin has in mind.

On the one hand Syrian president Bashar Assad could most certainly not be sending troops to support the Kurds without the clear agreement of Russia. In fact, some commentators describe the arrangement as a “Russian-brokered deal.” So Russia’s President Vladimir Putin must be looking with equanimity at the prospect of Syrian government forces coming into direct conflict with Turkish ground troops.

On the other hand on October 10 Russia joined the US in blocking a UN Security Council resolution calling on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to cease military action and withdraw from Syrian territory – and Putin has indicated that he will exercise his veto on any future anti-Turkish motions as well. So Putin is apparently both against Turkey’s incursion into Syrian territory and against stopping it.

Media commentators are equally at sea over the Kurdish-Syrian arrangement. Several see the deal as a move forced by events on a reluctant Kurdish administration and believe, with the Daily Telegraph’s Raf Sanchez, that “the deal appeared to strike a death knell for Kurdish hopes of maintaining autonomy from Damascus in their own semistate in northeast Syria.”

But Assad’s Syrian administration is not at permanent loggerheads with the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). On July 27, 2018, in response to an invitation from the Syrian government, a delegation of the SDC arrived in Damascus to hold direct talks, while the day before it traveled to the Syrian capital, it announced that Kurdish forces were ready to join any military operation by government forces in the northern governorate of Idlib aimed at retaking the Kurdish area of Afrin (Afrin was captured by Turkish-backed troops in March 2018, as part of a drive by Erdogan to prevent the Kurds from dominating Turkey’s southern land border).
The End of Kurdish Autonomy in Syria?
In the early years of the revolt against his regime, Assad was desperately short of loyal manpower and unilaterally withdrew his forces from Syria's northeast in June-July 2012. The Kurds had to fight for their lives from the beginning as the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra attempted to wipe them out.

Islamic State then sought to destroy the Kurdish enclave of Rojava in mid-2014. The jihadi forces swallowed up village after village as they headed toward the town of Kobani. Just a few hundred YPG fighters remained in the town, prepared to fight the jihadists to the death. But ISIS never took Kobani. A new partnership with U.S. air power, the artillery of Masoud Barzani's Peshmerga from Kurdistan in Iraq, and the grit, courage and self-sacrifice of the YPG stopped them. It took another four years of fighting and 11,000 dead from the ranks of the YPG and its allies (now the SDF) to destroy the ISIS caliphate.

I worked a lot in the SDF areas during this campaign and remember the faces and the names of many friends and acquaintances killed in those years. The Kurdish fighters maintained an odd sort of fatalism. If you were there, it was reasoned, you were ready to die and willing for it.

After the caliphate was destroyed, the most common predictions were that the Americans would leave at some point, given the limited nature of their commitment. If that happened, there would be a need for a rapid deal with the Syrian regime to prevent a Turkish/Sunni Islamist rampage.
US Indicts Turkish Bank for Evading Iran Sanctions After Attempt to Make Deal Fails
The United States has indicted a Turkish bank for allegedly evading US sanctions on Iran after reportedly failing to reach a deal with the Trump administration to avoid charges.

“Halkbank, a Turkish state-owned bank, allegedly conspired to undermine the United States Iran sanctions regime by illegally giving Iran access to billions of dollars’ worth of funds, all while deceiving US regulators about the scheme,” said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security. “This is one of the most serious Iran sanctions violations we have seen, and no business should profit from evading our laws or risking our national security.”

The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said “the bank’s audacious conduct was supported and protected by high-ranking Turkish government officials, some of whom received millions of dollars in bribes to promote and protect the scheme.”

The illicit funds came from sales from Iran’s national oil company in which the bank administered transactions designed to appear to be purchases of medicine and food by Iranian customers, in accordance with the so-called “humanitarian exception” that’s related to the sanctions.

Turkey has denied the charges, which, along with evading sanctions, include fraud and money-laundering.
3 ex-Islamic State fighters from Gaza escape Syrian prison
Three Islamic State operatives from Gaza who used to fight under the group's banner in Iran and Syria have escaped from a Kurdish detention facility in northeast Syria amid an ongoing Turkish offensive, i24NEWS revealed on Thursday.

The three jihadists were held in a Kurdish prison in the town of Tel Abyad, a major target for the Turkish armed forces, a senior source in the Gaza Strip told i24NEWS.

On Wednesday, the three spoke to their families by telephone, the source said.

One of the escaped jihadists is identified by the initials AG and is said to be a senior operative within the group's security establishment who was arrested in September 2018.

A resident of Rafah, he was at one time part of the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

Another terrorist is identified as HN, also a Rafah resident and an ISIS fighter arrested in early 2018. He is believed to have left the Gaza Strip in 2016, traveled to Turkey, and joined ISIS in Syria from there.

MS, the third escaped jihadist, is a resident of Khan Younis and a former member of the Hamas military wing. He joined the terrorist group in Sinai, where its affiliate was fighting the Egyptian forces, and then moved to Libya.
LISTEN: Architect of UN’s first anti-Semitism report says it is ‘long overdue’
Last month, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, released the first UN human rights report wholly dedicated to anti-Semitism. In his report, Shaheed found that anti-Semitic incidents have created a “climate of fear” among Jews and refers to anti-Semitism as a threat that is “toxic to democracy.”

In a New York conversation with People of the Pod co-host Seffi Kogen, Shaheed said that prior to writing the report he had observed how disengaged the UN was on the subject of anti-Semitism and, at the same time, how violent the increasing anti-Semitic attacks were. His report, he said, is “long overdue” and a good starting point for the UN to use its global reach to address the issue.

Weekly podcast People of the Pod is produced in partnership between the American Jewish Committee and The Times of Israel. We take you beyond the headlines and analyze global affairs through a Jewish lens.

According to Felice Gaer, director of the AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur is an independent human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. Shaheed, a former foreign minister of the Maldives, is now Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre at the UK’s University of Essex.
US, Israel ‘appalled’ as Venezuela wins seat on UN Human Rights Council
Venezuela won a contested election for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday despite a campaign by over 50 organizations and many countries opposed to Nicolas Maduro’s government and its rights record.

There was scattered applause in the General Assembly chamber when its president announced the results of the voting for two Latin American seats. Brazil topped the ballot with 153 votes followed by Venezuela with 105 votes and late entry Costa Rica with 96 votes.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called the vote “a victory” that followed “a fierce and brutal campaign by the United States … and its subordinate nations.”

The Trump administration has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president and US Ambassador Kelly Craft called the placing of President Nicolás Maduro’s government on the council “an embarrassment to the United Nations and a tragedy for the people of Venezuela.

“That one of the world’s worst human-rights abusers would be granted a seat on a body that is supposed to defend human rights is utterly appalling,” Craft said in a statement after the vote.
‘Protecting Dictators’: Israel’s UN Ambassador Condemns Election of Venezuela and Libya to Human Rights Council
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations responded furiously on Thursday to the news that Venezuela and Libya had been elected to serve on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), despite the long records of systemic human rights abuse in both countries.

“The Human Rights Council continues to abandon human rights and is now in the business of protecting dictators and war crimes,” Danny Danon — Israel’s UN envoy in New York — declared in a statement. “In Venezuela, a dictator starves his people, and in Libya there are camps that torture African migrants.”

Danon observed that “these countries are added to the Council’s ‘moral leadership,’ as the body no longer hides its obsessive hostility to Israel, and legitimizes those who blatantly violate and act against its original mandate.”

Venezuela and Libya were elected to two of the 14 available seats on the UNHRC during a vote on Thursday in Geneva, where the council holds its sessions. According to UN Watch, a Geneva-based human rights NGO, Venezuela received the support of 54 percent of the council, beating Costa Rica’s bid to gain a seat by nine votes. Libya received the support of 87 percent of the council, while Mauritania — where chattel slavery remains entrenched — received 81 percent, and Sudan — frequently the location of genocide and ethnic cleansing — received 91 percent approval.

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said, “Today’s election of the former Maduro regime in Venezuela to the UN Human Rights Council is an embarrassment to the United Nations and a tragedy for the people of Venezuela. I am personally aggrieved that 105 countries voted in favor of this affront to human life and dignity. It provides ironclad proof that the Human Rights Council is broken and reinforces why the United States withdrew.”
UN Watch: Global Campaign to Expel Maduro from the UN Human Rights Council
Recalling General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006, particularly Art. 8, which provides that the General Assembly may suspend the rights of membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council of a member that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights;

Determining that Venezuela’s Maduro regime has committed extrajudicial killings, torture, the jailing of political prisoners, acts to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press and political participation, violent suppression of peaceful demonstrations, and that it grants impunity for human rights abuses by state agents;

Recalling the precedent of the suspension of Libya from the Council in 2011;

We hereby call on the General Assembly suspend the rights of membership of Venezuela’s Maduro regime in the Council.

JPost Editorial: Free Naama
Naama Issachar has been in a Russian prison for six months for what should be a minor offense. The 26-year-old dual citizen of the US and Israel was found to have 9.5 grams of marijuana in her luggage in a Moscow airport, en route from India to Israel.

That is an illegal action – but the punishment does not fit the crime.

Issachar had only a small amount of the drug, clearly meant for personal use and not for dealing – in Israel, personal use can be claimed for possession of up to 15 grams. And the fact that she could not have accessed it while on the stopover meant nothing.

Issachar was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison on charges of smuggling. Issachar’s Russian lawyer said the amount she had in her luggage would normally be punished with a month’s detention and a fine.

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested that Issachar’s sentence be commuted and the terms of her current detention be eased.

President Reuven Rivlin also wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The punishment being demanded by the Russian prosecutor is disproportionate and does not fit the nature of the offense being attributed to Issachar,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

But that’s because, in Putin’s Russia, the courts are not looking to do justice: They’re looking to settle scores.
'Russia is constantly trying to arrest Israeli citizens'
Russia will continue to use Israeli citizens as bargaining chips to advance their own political and diplomatic objectives, says former Israeli Ambassador Zvi Magen.

Naama Issachar, who was arrested in Russia during a layover, after 9.5 grams (0.3 oz) of cannabis were found in her luggage is facing 7.5 years in prison. Israel is trying to negotiate her release. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin asked President Vladimir Putin to commute her sentence.

"The Russians tried, and are constantly trying, to arrest Israeli citizens," Magen told Israel Hayom in an interview this week.

Magen, who served both as the Israeli envoy to Russia and Ukraine, said that there was nothing Israel could do but wait. "Everything that can be done to free Issachar, Israel has already done," he added.

"Now, the question is, What does Russia want? Whoever started this offensive maneuver is of course Russia. The relationship is experiencing some tension, there are other occurrences of Russia using insults against Israel."
The country needs to rethink its policy regarding Gaza
On all fronts, Israel has shown determination, stubbornness and sometimes brinkmanship, sending clear messages that it does not intend to give up what it perceives as its vital security interests. But as Israel and the Jewish world enter the new Jewish year 5780, it is also evident that all the problems and challenges that Israel faced last year have remained.

On all five fronts and on each front itself, Israel has shown that it has no clear vision and no comprehensive strategy. Its approach and policies solely rely on exerting military force with no parallel or complementary diplomatic moves.

In recent years, certainly since Donald Trump entered the White House, Israel has sanctioned the status quo. At the same time, it is absolutely clear that Netanyahu has miscalculated by fully siding with Trump and the Republican Party, and abandoning Israel’s traditional bipartisan approach.

Trump can’t be trusted as an iron-clad pillar of support for the Jewish state. He is capricious and unstable. His foreign policy is full of zigzags in all international arenas, including the Middle East. Trump’s effort to reconcile with Iran is a slap in Netanyahu’s face, and a blatant example that when it comes to his personal or America’s national interests, Trump can easily throw Israel under the bus.
Israel’s rivals on all fronts – Iran in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and the PA in the West Bank – have also signaled that despite their losses and inferiority, they are not going to cave in to the mighty Israeli military machine. They match Israeli determination with their own, and continue to pursue and consolidate their own interests. Iran continues to build bases in Syria, including near the Israel border on the Golan Heights. Hezbollah is amassing huge arsenal of rockets and missiles. And the rulers of Gaza have not been deterred.

Israel needs to change its state of mind. It has to realize that in dealing with its enemies and rivals, it can’t rely only on the sword. Nothing lasts forever. It needs to launch diplomatic initiatives in order to seek long-term solutions to its regional problems.

One can only wish that in the coming year, the next government – led by someone other than Netanyahu – will change the course of Israeli politics, as well as its foreign and security policies.
Israeli family kicked out of restaurant in Jordan
A family of 10 from Even Yehuda who traveled to Jordan this week said they were kicked out of a local restaurant only because they are Israelis, according to a Mako report on Thursday.

"The Jordanians are very nice people, warm - and they love to help. We enjoyed the trip and the views and the fact that we paid a third of what we would have paid in Eilat," Tal Meshulam, one of the family members, told Mako. "Everything was perfect until we arrived at the Rakwet Kanan restaurant for lunch."

Meshulam said that they sat down in the restaurant and the restaurant owner came over to them and asked them where they were from. When they responded that they're from Israel, he immediately kicked them out. "He simply kicked us out because we're Israelis. He told us: 'You can go to Eilat, you won't be served here.' We were in complete shock. Every place we traveled in Jordan, people told us that we're their neighbors and the atmosphere was very friendly until we got to this restaurant. It was humiliating. The waiter said he was sorry but the policy of the restaurant was not to serve Israelis."

Later that day, Meshulam told the owner of the hotel they were staying at about the incident and he offered to submit a complaint to the police against the restaurant owner since what he did was illegal. "I understood from others who heard about the incident that the owner of the restaurant is Palestinian and he's not willing to host Israelis," Meshulam said. "There's quite a lot of Israelis who are calling to ban the place. Someone needs to put a stop to this. We intend to submit a lawsuit against the restaurant owner."

Despite the view of Abbas, there’s no plan to replace him
Palestinians say they have become accustomed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s “zigzagging” policies on several issues, particularly toward Israel.

The Palestinian public, however, does not seem to be seriously bothered by its leader’s shifting policies – as long as the PA continues to pay salaries to its public servants and ensure economic and security stability in the West Bank.

That’s precisely why Abbas’s decision earlier this month to accept reduced Palestinian tax revenues from Israel did not surprise many Palestinians. Since February, the PA had refused to receive the revenues, to protest Israel’s decision to withhold more than $12 million a month – the sum the PA pays to terrorists and families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks against the Jewish state.

For several months, Abbas appeared adamant in his refusal to accept the tax revenues from Israel if they are not paid in full. He and senior Palestinian officials in Ramallah accused Israel of carrying out an “act of piracy” by deducting the sum paid by the PA to the prisoners and families of “martyrs.”

The PA leadership is now trying to depict the sudden change in its position regarding the reduced tax revenues as a “major achievement” for the Palestinians.

According to PA officials, a deal reached between Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian General Authority of Civil Affairs, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon paves the way for introducing changes to the 1994 Protocol on Economic Relations, also called the Paris Protocol.

The PA has long been calling for changing the Paris Protocol, which regulates the relationship and interaction between the Palestinians and Israel in six major areas: customs, taxes, labor, agriculture, industry and tourism. The protocol also gives Israel sole control over the external borders, and collection of import taxes and VAT.

Lebanon drops plan to tax WhatsApp users after thousands protest economic crisis
Lebanese security forces fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters in Beirut early Friday after they tried to push through security barriers around the government headquarters amid some of the largest demonstrations the country has seen in years.

The riots left two people dead and dozens wounded.

The protests erupted over the government’s plan to impose new taxes during a severe economic crisis, with people taking their anger out on politicians they accuse of corruption and decades of mismanagement.

The protests started with a few dozen people gathering in central Beirut over the imposition of a 20-cent daily fee on messaging applications, including WhatsApp, an idea that a minister said was later dropped. They quickly escalated into some of the biggest demonstrations since an uprising over a garbage crisis in 2015, with thousands of people taking part.

People gathered near the government headquarters and parliament building where riot police were deployed, chanting: “Revolution!” and “Thieves!” — the latter a reference to widespread corruption in a country that has one of the highest debt loads in the world.

Some protesters threw stones, shoes and water bottles at security forces and scuffled with police. Security forces said at least 60 of its members were injured in the clashes. Protesters were also injured.
UN must renew its arms embargo against Iran, Pompeo says in Israel
The United Nations Security Council must renew its arms embargo against Iran when it expires next year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said while in Israel, as he warned of a new Middle East arms race.

“Because of the flawed Iran deal, the UN arms embargo on Iran will expire in one year. Countries like Russia and China will be able to sell Iran sophisticated weapons,” Pompeo tweeted prior to meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Friday. “The Iranian regime will be free to sell weapons to anyone. This will trigger a new arms race in the Middle East,” he continued.

“If you’re worried about Iran’s behavior now, imagine what Iran will do with advanced missiles, drones, tanks, and jets. The Security Council must renew the arms embargo,” he added.

The Pompeo Netanyahu meeting lasted for two hours, after which the two men issued a few statements to the press. “It is always a joy to be with you Mr. Prime Minister. It is great to be back here in Israel. The remarkable close relationship between our two countries is as strong as it has ever been. President Trump of course said to send his regard to your as well,” Pompeo said.

“We had a chance to talk this morning about all the challenges that the world faces and that Israel and the US face head on together as an important beacon of hope and democracy here in the Middle East,” he said.

“The American people value this relationship. We talked about all the efforts we have made to push back against the threat not only to Israel but to the region and the world from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pompeo said.
Poll: 3/4 of Iranians Against Ending Nuclear Enrichment
Fifteen months after the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and began reimposing sanctions on Iran, 59 percent of Iranians think their country should also withdraw. Three in four (74%) support the government's new policy of gradually exceeding some JCPOA limits and threatening withdrawal unless other signatories do more to allow Iran to benefit from the deal. Just as many (75%) say that Iran should not end nuclear enrichment, even if the United States promises sanctions relief, according to a new survey by the University of Maryland.

Iran's current policy is much more popular than its previous stance of complying fully with the deal while waiting to see if the EU countries, Russia, and China would normalize trade and economic relations with Iran as stipulated in the JCPOA, despite the heightened threat of secondary US sanctions. Fifty-three percent supported the previous policy in May, 21 points below current support for the new policy.

For the first time, fewer than half approve of the JCPOA (42%), while 52 percent disapprove. Also for the first time, a strong majority (69%) lacks confidence that the remaining parties will uphold their obligations, up 33 points since January 2018. Only a quarter (24%) look positively on European efforts to create channels for trade with Iran. Almost half (46%) do not think such efforts are really taking place; another 25 percent say they are "too little, too late."
Global Watchdog Gives Iran Until Feb to Tighten Anti-Money Laundering Rules
A global dirty money watchdog said on Friday it had given Iran a final deadline of February 2020 to comply with international norms after which it would urge all its members to apply counter-measures.

The Paris-based FATF said in the meantime that it was asking members to demand scrutiny of transactions with Iran and tougher external auditing of financing firms operating in the country.

“If before February 2020, Iran does not enact the Palermo and Terrorist Financing Conventions in line with the FATF Standards, then the FATF will fully lift the suspension of counter-measures and call on its members and urge all jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures, in line with recommendation 19,” it said in a statement.

Foreign businesses say Iran’s compliance with Financial Action Task Force (FATF) rules is key if Tehran wants to attract investors, especially after the United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran last year.

France, Britain and Germany have tied Iran’s compliance and removal from the FATF blacklist to a new channel for non-dollar trade with Iran designed to avert US sanctions.

Iran’s leaders are however divided over complying with the FATF. Supporters say it could ease foreign trade with Europe and Asia when the country’s economy is targeted by US penalties aimed at its isolation.

Hardline opponents argue that passing legislation toward joining the FATF, could hamper Iran’s support for its allies, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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