Tuesday, December 15, 2020

12/15 Links Pt1: How the GCC summit could reshape the Middle East; US sanctions NATO ally Turkey for buying Russian S-400 air defense system

From Ian:

How the GCC summit could reshape the Middle East
In the coming days, this region looks forward to another important event: the Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, a GCC leaders summit that annually sheds light on the most important issues of the hour.

The summit will wrap up December’s main achievement, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Manama Dialogue that concluded on December 6, with the Abraham Accords getting the lion’s share of attention and participants being loud and clear about where they stand regarding threats from Iran, its nuclear program, the significance of unified international efforts to fight extremism, and how the Abraham Accords have changed the face of the Middle East.

Statements from politicians, officials, and security specialists all had one issue of common concern: Without international coordination and cooperation, the world will only be allowing extremist regimes to continue being destructive members in the international community.

If we actively investigate the most important statements made, we will clearly see that Israel has become a stronger team player in Middle East politics following the historic agreements signed with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and now Morocco. Perhaps Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi’s statement regarding the negotiations with Palestinian leaders was a pivotal point in this event that needs to be further analyzed. Ashkenazi’s statement was both clear and came forward as very genuine as he emphasized: “We were born in the region. We know the challenges and it’s a question of leadership.”

Ashkenazi also was more open about directly pointing fingers at Turkey’s aggressiveness in the Eastern Mediterranean, hoping that Erdoğan’s foreign policies toward countries in the Middle East will change as he hosts Hamas’ headquarters, providing them state assistance that has over the years enabled Hamas members to move around more easily with passports provided by Turkey. This was an important clarification of where Israel stands when it comes to its relations with Turkey and its strong stance toward unacceptable Turkish foreign policies.
Israel’s President Praises Bahrain’s King Hamad for Making Peace With Israel
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday praised Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa for his “brave and historic decision to establish a warm peace with Israel.”

In a phone conversation with Al Khalifa ahead of Bahrain’s National Day, which falls on Dec. 16, Rivlin said the recent signing of the Abraham Accords was “already a model for other countries in our region,” according to a statement from his office.

“We have chosen to invest from the very beginning in cooperation in the fields of economy, innovation and health,” he said. “I am full of hope that the Palestinians will also take steps to build mutual trust, cooperation and peace.”

Earlier on Monday, Rivlin welcomed a delegation of opinion leaders and activists from Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, greeting them both in Arabic and in Hebrew.

“Peace is made between peoples and nations,” he told the delegation, led by Amit Deri of the Sharaka Project. “Your visit here is another step in the path of building warm relations between our countries.”

The Sharaka (Arabic for “cooperation”) Project “aims to lead social initiatives that bring Israel’s voice to strengthen familiarity with the State of Israel in the Arab world, and create cooperation between young people in Israel and Arab states.”

One member of the delegation, Majid Al Sarrah from the University of Dubai, said “to visit Israel for the first time as part of a delegation is a historic moment. Israel is a prime example of tolerance in the region. This is a new era of peace and stability between peoples.”
Trump deserves the Nobel prize for his work to forge peace in the Middle East
By rights, US President Donald Trump’s groundbreaking peace initiative in Israeli-Arab relations should make him a shoe-in for the Nobel Peace Prize. There is, after all, a long list of previous recipients of the award whose recognition stems from their own contribution to improving relations between Arabs and Jews. Former US President Jimmy Carter won the award for his role in the 1970s Camp David negotiations that resulted in the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. More recently we have seen Yasser Arafat, the reformed Palestinian terrorist, and former Israeli prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, appointed Laureates for their contribution to the 1993 Oslo Accords, even though Mr Arafat’s subsequent refusal to sign up to Bill Clinton’s Camp David agreement in 2000 consigned the region to another two decades of conflict.

And, so pronounced is the liberal bias that informs the committee’s outlook, that former President Barack Obama received the award in 2009 simply for being elected to office.

Thus, if there were any degree of consistency in the Nobel committee’s deliberations, Mr Trump – who has done more than any other president in recent history to further the cause of peace in the Middle East – would be a worthy contender for the prize.

Last week Morocco became the latest Middle Eastern country to sign up to the Abraham Accords, the Trump administration’s peace initiative that has made a significant contribution to breaking the stalemate in Israeli-Arab relations.

The bold initiative, the result of years of painstaking diplomacy by Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law, has already resulted in a major thawing in relations between Israel and the Gulf states, with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates agreeing to establish diplomatic ties, and several other Gulf governments – including Saudi Arabia – said to be giving serious consideration to following suit.

Kushner to Lead US Delegation to Israel and Morocco After Normalization Deal
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner will lead a US delegation to Israel and Morocco next week for discussions on the normalization deal the two countries reached last week, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

The US delegation and an Israeli team will join together and take the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat as a sign of progress after the Israel-Morocco deal that Kushner helped broker, the official told Reuters.

Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and Adam Boehler, chief executive officer of the US International Development Finance Corporation, will arrive in Israel on Monday.

While in Jerusalem, Kushner, who is US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is to hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the official said.

El Al is expected to be the airliner for the first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat that the Kushner team and a delegation led by Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat will take, the official said.
US-Israeli delegation to take 1st direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat next week
A joint US-Israeli delegation is set to visit the kingdom of Morocco next week on the first-ever nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat, a senior US administration official told The Times of Israel Tuesday.

A senior US delegation, headed by US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and the administration’s envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Avi Berkowitz, is scheduled to land in Israel next Monday.

The following day, they will be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and other Israeli officials for the flight to the Moroccan capital from Ben Gurion Airport. Representatives of Israeli media are expected to be able to accompany the delegation.

The historic trip will take place less than two weeks after the North African Kingdom country announced that it was establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state following a decision by Trump to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Morocco became the fourth country in four months to announce its plans to normalize ties with Israel at the Trump administration’s behest, following the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.
Congress votes to maintain security assistance to Israel
The US Congress passed last week a $741 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2021 fiscal year, and it includes the continuation of American assistance to Israel for missile-defense programs and other initiatives.

The Pentagon blueprint passed the US House of Representatives by a vote of 335-78, while the Senate passed it by a tally of 84-13.

The NDAA allocates $500 million towards missile-defense systems in Israel, such as the Iron Dome, David's Sling, and Arrow 3. Additionally, it extends authorization for the US War Reserve Stockpile in Israel through the 2025 fiscal year and authorizes an additional $200 million annually in stocks.

The NDAA also lifts current limitations on the transfer of precision-guided munitions to Israel in an emergency and authorizes the president to exceed the current limitation of $200 million on the transfer of PGMs in a non-emergency setting under certain conditions. Moreover, it authorizes the secretary of defense to establish a directed energy program with Israel.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Christians United for Israel applauded the passage of the NDAA as it pertains to US assistance to Israel.

Revealed: Officials from major Muslim country recently visited Israel
A senior adviser to the leader of a large Muslim-majority country has recently visited Israel despite the two countries having no diplomatic relations, Israel Hayom has learned.

Although under censorship restrictions Israel Hayom cannot name the Asian country or the people involved due to potential national security and diplomatic sensitivities, we can report that the adviser headed a delegation of senior officials for meetings in Tel Aviv some two weeks ago.

The talks between the two sides come on the heels of the normalization deals struck between Israel and several Arab states through the active mediation of the Trump administration. The deals, known collectively as the Abraham Accords, have been announced over the course of the past several months, with the United Arab Emirates being the first, followed by Bahrain and Sudan.

Just last week, Morocco became the latest country to publicly announce the establishment of full diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

Saudi Arabia, as the de facto leader of the Sunni-Arab bloc in the region, has been reportedly active behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for US-led normalization effort and it has recently granted overflight rights to Israeli airliners.
New Israeli ambassador urges UK to move embassy to Jerusalem
Israel’s new ambassador to the UK has called on the British government to move its embassy to Jerusalem, defended the settlements and said that Brexit would “help” trade between the nations.

In a wide ranging interview with the JC - her first media encounter since arriving this summer - Tzipi Hotovely, who is Israel’s first female ambassador to the UK, also welcomed open relations with Arab nations after the historic Abraham Accords were signed this year between Israel and the Gulf states, as well as Sudan and Morocco.

She said she expected more peace deals to be announced.

Ambassador Hotovely said she hoped to raise the issue of the British Embassy with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

She said: “I think all embassies should be located in Jerusalem.

“I really hope we will have an opportunity to discuss that with this government and to say that historically I believe this is the right thing to do because it reflects the reality of Jerusalem being our capital since Israel was established.”
Israel to set up embassy in Abu Dhabi by early-Jan
An Israeli delegation visited the UAE last week to scout for location for the upcoming embassy

Israel will establish its embassy and consulate in the UAE by the first week of January, 2021, the country's foreign ministry has confirmed.

“We are hoping to have the inauguration (of the embassy) by the end December or the first week of January 2021. We will have the embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General will be in Dubai,” a ministry spokesperson told Khaleej Times.

He said the embassy and the consulate would be ‘big’ in reflecting on the significance of the historic UAE-Israeli ties.

“I cannot say whether the missions will be one of the biggest in the world. But I can tell you that our embassy and consulate in the UAE will be really big.”

Media reports from Israel, quoting diplomatic sources, said that the embassy “may even be as large as the missions in Washington, London and Moscow”.

Cotler-Wunsh submits bill to promote Arabic language in Israeli schools
Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh of the Blue and White Party submitted a bill in Israel’s Knesset to require Arabic-language studies.

Proposed as an amendment to the law on public education, the bill would make it mandatory for Jewish schools in Israel to teach all students Arabic starting in elementary school and through the end of their studies.

According to Cotler-Wunsh, the Arabic taught to Israeli students would include an emphasis on both the spoken and the written language, allowing them to understand and be able to communicate with their Arab neighbors in Israel and the region, and helping to bridge the cultural and language gaps that currently exist.

“Always and especially with the potential paradigm shift taking place in the Middle East—away from rejectionism and towards normalization based on recognition that enables negotiation, and ultimately, peace—it is imperative for our children to be able to communicate and engage with Arabs in Israel and neighbors in the region,” she told JNS. “I am hopeful that this will provide the path forward to mutual recognition, enhanced conversation, coexistence and sustainable peace with additional peoples and countries in our region and beyond.” Subscribe to The JNS Daily Syndicate by email and never miss our top stories Cotler-Wunsh previously announced that she would be proposing the bill during an online conference on Nov. 30 titled “Transforming trauma: How Jewish voices from Iran and Arab lands can be a bridge for peace,” which brought together a group of activists who each shared their experiences and thoughts on how to further the cause of Jewish refugees and their descendants, and work towards normalization with Arab and Muslim countries.
Beitar Jerusalem’s New Emirati Co-Owner Partners With Ex-Officers From Famed IDF Tech Unit 8200
The HBK Department of Projects, headed by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, who made headlines last week when he purchased a 50% stake in Israeli football club Beitar Jerusalem, has got another collaboration with Israelis lined up, this time in the cybersecurity sector with former Unit 8200 officers, a source told Calcalist under the condition of anonymity.

It is still unclear what the partnership will include, but among the Israeli entrepreneurs involved in the deal are Aviv Holin and Nadav Dantz, two former officers in what is known as Israel’s version of the NSA, who are nevertheless relatively unknown figures in the local cyber industry.

The new partnership is set to focus on cyber defense. According to Holin and Dantz, “they will work together with HBK Department of Projects to provide companies in the UAE and other countries with advanced services with the goal of providing protection from cyberattacks for industrial organizations, financial companies, the energy sector and governmental organizations.

“In addition, as part of the partnership a cyber academy at the forefront of the technology will be set up in the UAE with the goal of training and instructing government personnel, analysts and Chief Information Security Officers, which is currently regarded as one of the most in-demand positions in big organizations.”

Saudi TV show shifts perception of Israel-Gulf normalization
An award-winning Saudi television drama series may have helped shift public perception of the historic normalization agreements that were reached between Israel and Gulf countries in August, one of the show’s co-creators believes.

Bahraini brothers Ali Shams and Mohammad Shams are the screenwriters who, along with their creative team, won the America Abroad Media award this year for their historic dramatic series Um Haroun (Mother of Aaron), which drew a massive audience base and aired on Saudi Arabia’s state-sponsored MBC.

The show first began airing during Ramadan earlier this year in Arabic-speaking countries and explores the relationships between Muslim/Christian Arab and Jewish communities.

“All the Arab people in the Gulf and especially Egypt – some 141 million people saw Um Haroun,” Ali Shams, one of the series’ co-creators, told The Media Line. “Some accepted it and some didn’t.”

Shams believes that the timing of the show’s release was particularly significant since it was broadcast only months before the signing of the Abraham Accords, which saw ties normalize between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
MEMRI: Moroccan Journalist: Normalization With Israel Will Benefit Morocco, Peace In The Middle East
In a December 12, 2020 article, Moroccan journalist Oussi Mouh Lahcen praised his country's decision to establish diplomatic ties with Israel, calling it an "historic initiative" that is necessary" and "wise" and will advance peace in the Middle East. Explaining that Morocco-Israel relations had developed many years previously in numerous areas, he stated that Morocco has always supported peace and moderation, and that it was Morocco that had encouraged the Israel-Egypt and Israeli-Palestinian peace processes. He added that by deciding to renew relations with Israel, Morocco had "killed two birds with one stone" – joining the camp of peace seekers as well as obtaining historic official U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

The following are translated excerpts from the article:
"The decision to warm up diplomatic relations between Morocco and the Hebrew state is a wise and realistic decision. This historic initiative will support [efforts] to achieve a just peace in the Middle East and encourage the [renewal] of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, instead of the language of violence and death. Moreover, this initiative does right by the kingdom [of Morocco] and the unification of its lands, for the U.S. government has confirmed its sovereignty over its [Sahara] desert and intends to open a consulate in the [Western Sahara] city of Dakhla...

"As the office of King [Mohammed VI] took pains to emphasize in its statement, the [Moroccan] kingdom's decision [to establish relations with Israel] will not 'in any way' harm 'its permanent and ongoing commitment to defending the just Palestinian issue and its constructive involvement [in efforts] to impose a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East.' This is a significant matter intended to prevent any tendentious interpretation [of Morocco's normalization with Israel] by any internal or external element that continues to exploit the Palestinian issue to achieve ideological aims and to serve agendas that do not contribute to the peoples' aspirations to achieve peace...

"Moderation and realism are what distinguish the diplomatic positions of the Kingdom of Morocco. This can be credited to Morocco's official position from the beginning, when its starting point was support for the Palestinian issue and unconditional solidarity with the Palestinians, while at the same time [maintaining] moderation and realism in all things concerned with treating Israel as an established fact. Today, in light of the geostrategic changes on the regional and international level, it was necessary to kill two birds with one stone: to join the peace seekers, and to obtain an historic decision from the U.S. government clearly and officially recognizing that the [Sahara] desert is Moroccan – constituting a death blow to the Polisario [Front] and the supporters of its separatist plan...

"Morocco's official position makes the existence of peace conditional on an agreement that satisfies the Palestinians. This is not necessarily the position of some political elements in Morocco that are the vestiges of tyrannical regimes that cloak themselves in a nationalistic pan-Arab ideological mantle, or are the vestiges of the streams of political Islam [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood] that have always opposed what they refer to as 'normalization,' and that exploit the Palestinian issue... to serve their agenda inside and outside Morocco.
MEMRI: Egyptian Journalists: There Is Nothing Condemnable About Having Friendly Relations With Israelis
Popular Egyptian actor and singer Mohamed Ramadan recently faced intense backlash after a photo snapped at a Dubai restaurant, showing him with his arm around Israeli singer Omer Adam, went viral on social media.[1] Many Egyptians condemned Ramadan and even accused him of treason, and a "Mohamed Ramadan Zionist" hashtag was launched on Twitter. The fury increased even further after the photo was published on the Israel Foreign Ministry's "Israel speaks Arabic" Facebook page, with many expressing hatred for Israel and accusing Ramadan of serving this country's aim of currying favor with the Egyptian people.[2]

Mohamed Ramadan (center) with Israeli singer Omer Adam (left) and Emirati media personality Hamad Al-Mazroui (right) on the Israeli Foreign Ministry's "Israel Speaks Arabic" Facebook page (, November 21, 2020.

Media outlets identified with the Egyptian regime joined the social media attacks on Ramadan, publishing articles against him and demanding that he apologize for his action. For example, Hamdi Rizq, who is editor of the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm and is close to the Egyptian regime, called for Ramadan to apologize for "this act of normalization, the likes of which no celebrity before him has ever perpetrated."[3]Egyptian TV host Ahmed Moussa, also affiliated with the regime, attacked Ramadan on his television show, describing his action as a "disgrace" and urging the Union of Art Syndicates to take measures against him.[4] Professional syndicates in Egypt indeed took measures against the singer. Egypt's Theatrical Professions Syndicate condemned his action, stressing that "there is a difference between the official agreements, to which the Arab governments are committed, and the popular, cultural and artistic stance on the issue of normalization." Subsequently, the Union of Art Syndicates suspended Ramadan's membership pending an investigation of the incident.[5] Furthermore, the Journalists Syndicate prohibited publishing any news about him or photographs of him, and a program starring him, scheduled to be aired next month during Ramadan, was cancelled. In addition, Egyptian attorney Tareq Mahmoud filed a lawsuit against him for causing harm to the Egyptian people.[6]

Mohamed Ramadan defended his action by claiming that he did not know who Omer Adam was when posing for the photo. He stated in an Instagram video: "I don't know [all] the people I pose with. We are all human, and I never refuse anyone who asks to take a picture with me… I can't ask everyone who wants to take a picture with me about his nationality, skin color or appearance." Later he took down the video and tried to quell the anger against him by replacing his Facebook profile picture with a Palestinian flag, but this did not stem the media outrage.[7] After the Union of Art Syndicates suspended him, Ramadan published on his Facebook page an image of himself in Egyptian army uniform, and explained that, had he known Adam was an Israeli, he would have refused to be photographed with him.[8]
PreOccupiedTerritory: We’ll Prove All Those Israeli-Arab Peace Agreements Worthless By Making Sure They Fail by John Kerry, former US Secretary of State (satire)
Almost to a man, we officials of Barack Obama’s presidential administration have dismissed the recent spate of normalized ties between Israel and various Muslim countries, having contended for years that no separate peace between Israel and the wider Arab or Muslim world could occur while the conflict with the Palestinians remains unresolved. The only option that remains, if we are to defend and maintain our longtime assumptions, is to short-circuit or hamstring any of those agreements that the parties reached over the last several months.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan have all inked agreements with Israel since October, with diplomatic whispers indicating several other such states waiting in the wings. The Trump administration, through Jared Kushner in particular, attempted to undermine the guiding assumptions of the foreign policy elite through several decades, specifically that the road to Israeli-Arab rapprochement runs through Ramallah, or Gaza. The recent string of their apparent successes, brokering treaty after treaty where the rest of us failed for so long, can mean only one thing: we must make every effort to show they are wrong and that no one must dare defy the conventional wisdom that had prevailed since the early 1990’s. By sabotaging those recent agreements, if necessary.

It therefore pleases me to no end that it appears the incoming Biden administration will do everything in its power to undo, roll back, mitigate, or otherwise negate this intolerable spate of normalization between Israel and the Arab world. The very future lies in the balance! By which I mean the future careers of all the think-tank personalities, diplomats, mediators, and others who have spent the better part of the last fifty years arguing that pressure on Israel to compromise on its core interests represents the only viable path to peace with the Arab world.
Israel stages major air defense drill, proving it can shoot down cruise missiles
The Defense Ministry completed a major, unprecedented air defense exercise this month, which tested the abilities of the country’s three tiers of missile defense systems against a variety of aerial threats, officials said Tuesday.

In the drill, which the ministry deemed a glowing success, the various air defense detection systems and batteries were required to communicate with one another and intercept several types of targets, including rockets, unmanned aerial vehicles and — critically — cruise missiles simultaneously.

The exercise, made up of a series of trials, was focused primarily on testing the capabilities of a new version of the medium-range David’s Sling air defense system, which is currently under development, as well as new capabilities of the Iron Dome.

“The success of this series of tests represents an important milestone in the operational capability of the State of Israel in its self-defense against existing and future threats in the region,” the Defense Ministry said.

David’s Sling, which represents the middle tier of Israel’s air defense array, was pitted against ballistic missiles, which follow a fixed and predetermined trajectory, as well as the more difficult-to-hit cruise missiles, which effectively function as small, fast, unmanned airplanes, capable of changing direction and thus better able to avoid air defenses.

“The results of the tests will allow the development engineers to continue to improve the capabilities of the [David’s Sling] system,” the Defense Ministry said.
Seth Frantzman: Israel’s historic missile test: A message to Iran, Hezbollah, allies
Add all this together and you can see a rapidly changing region in need of the kind of defense technology Israel has developed with US-backed. The US is a partner on the Arrow and David Sling programs and has supported Iron Dome. Iron Dome, however, is a unique Israeli answer to threats. It is also a phenomenal system. Together with David Sling, Israel is able to achieve almost 100% success against threats. That means that when an enemy sends missiles, or drones, against Israel the multiple tiered system will kick in, with sensors such as radar tracking the threats and putting them all on a map, a single picture is made of the threat and the systems capable of stopping it.

Arrow and David Sling have a long range, whereas Iron Dome batteries are a kind of point defense that can defend a certain area. By placing Iron Dome batteries at the right places and deploying these systems with radar on land and at sea, such as abroad the Sa'ar 5 and new Sa'ar 6 ships, Israel creates a massive multi-layered umbrella of defense.

This drill in the lead-up to Hanukkah showcases what Israel has accomplished over the last decade. Israel missile defense has origins in the 1990s and close cooperation with the US led us here. However it is important to note that the real revolution took place in the last decade through a unique partnership with companies like Rafael and Israel’s decision to correctly anticipate emerging threats and invest in being one step ahead of the enemy. Iran can’t blackmail the region so long as Israel can increasingly build these systems and put them to use.

That is important, because the octopus of Iranian threats in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen appears to be growing and Iran is chomping at the bit with the end of the Trump administration to begin a new reign of terror if it feels it is being appeased by the West. Israel represents the most hi-tech array of defense systems ever fielded in world history in this respect. The question as always is how these systems performed in real-world scenarios. That means also using Arrow as part of these drills, rather than conducting them at sea and with the Arrow system’s sensors being used without using the Arrow at the same time.

This is a struggle, because real world threats come in over mountainous areas, like the Golan, with drones or missiles trying to hide by being close to the ground. The recent test was a game changer. But the deadly game will continue until these systems face the sum of these threats one day on the battlefield.
Israel offered to release murderers in talks on Hamas prisoner swap – report
Israel offered to release Palestinians who killed Israelis in acts of terror in an effort to reach a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, a senior official in the Hamas terror group told the Lebanese the daily Al-Akhbar on Monday.

Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily newspaper, is widely considered a mouthpiece for the terror group Hezbollah. The tabloid has become a favorite method for Hamas officials to spread messages to the press outside of their official media.

The report quoted a senior official in the terror group as saying Israel had offered to release “hundreds of Palestinians, in exchange for their soldiers, including prisoners who had caused the deaths of Israelis.”

Though Israeli officials have acknowledged that talks are ongoing for the release of Israeli captives held by Hamas, they have refrained from discussing the specific proposals and offers being made in the negotiations. Clockwise from top left: Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. (Flash 90/Times of Israel)

Hamas is currently believed to hold two Israeli civilians, Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015, and the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war.
Gunmen attack Palestinian Authority headquarters in Jenin
Unidentified gunmen on Monday night carried out a shooting attack on the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the northern West Bank city of Jenin. No one was hurt, but some offices and vehicles in the compound were damaged.

The compound houses the headquarters of the PA security forces in the Jenin area.

The attack came as the PA Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday that the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the West Bank – 362 – was registered in the Jenin area.

Several gunmen took part in the attack, one of the largest against a PA installation in the West Bank, Palestinian sources in Jenin said. The sources claimed that some of the attackers belonged to the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction in the Jenin refugee camp and surrounding villages.

According to the sources, the attack may be linked to the PA security forces’ crackdown on gunmen and the confiscation of illegal weapons. Loay Irziqat, spokesman for the PA police, said on Tuesday that 11 suspects have been arrested in connection with the shooting attack.
Palestinian Authority mufti: No room for non-Muslims on Temple Mount
The Palestinian Authority Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, on Tuesday warned of attempts by Jewish groups to establish a presence on the Temple Mount.

Hussein told the Palestinian news agency Khabar that the entire holy site is Islamic and belongs only to Muslims.

“We affirm, time and again, that the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque, with its entire area of 144 dunams [144,000 sq.m.], is Islamic and only for Muslims,” he said. “There is no place for non-Muslims in any way in this mosque, whether through schools, churches or other places of worship.” Jordan, meanwhile, has again condemned visits by Jews to the Temple Mount as a “reckless provocation and a violation of international law and the legal and historical status quo.”

In a statement, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said that it “denounces the continued Israeli violations at al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif.”
PMW: Fatah: Throw rocks - “strike for the homeland”
Facebook continues to serve Abbas’ Fatah Movement as a platform for encouraging Palestinians to use violence and terror and to fight Israel.

In anticipation of Fatah’s upcoming anniversary in January 1 - counted from Fatah’s first terror attack against Israel in 1965 – the movement posted the image above calling to “strike”:
Text at top: “The Fatah Movement”
“Long live the anniversary of the outbreak of the modern Palestinian revolution”
Text at bottom: “Strike for the sake of the homeland”
[Official Fatah Facebook page, Dec. 10, 2020]

Another post stated that “peace starts” and “war breaks out from Palestine,” while showing an image of a masked man pointing at the viewer. To the left is a masked man holding a rock, and to the right a masked man holding a knife. Below them is a mass of masked men with a flame overlaid on top of them:
Text at top: “The Fatah Movement
Long live the anniversary of the outbreak of the modern Palestinian revolution”
Text at bottom: “Peace starts from Palestine
And war breaks out from Palestine”
[Official Fatah Facebook page, Dec. 10, 2020]

School curriculum’s role is to teach kids “Palestine is Haifa and Acre” – the DCIP's representative

PA: All of Israel is “our land of Palestine” – including Safed, Haifa, Acre, and Jaffa

On 33rd anniversary, Hamas vows to free Palestine ‘from sea to river’
Hamas vowed on Monday to continue the fight against Israel “until the liberation of Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River.”

In a statement on the occasion of the 33rd anniversary of its establishment, the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip said that it would “continue to carry the banner of resistance” against Israel “until we achieve our people’s goals of freedom, the right of return [for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes inside Israel] and the restoration of our land and holy sites.”

Hamas was founded in 1987, shortly after the beginning of the First Intifada. Its charter, published in 1988, calls for the “liberation of Palestine” and replacing Israel with an Islamic state.

Hamas pledged to confront “all attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause, first and foremost the Deal of the Century,” a reference to US President Donald Trump’s plan for Middle East peace.

Hamas also vowed to confront normalization agreements between the Arab countries and Israel, dubbing them a “national sin that only serves the Zionist enterprise in the region.”

Musa Abu Marzouk, member of the “Hamas Political Bureau,” said that his group was working to “develop the infrastructure of the Palestinian resistance in its various forms.” Hamas is also working to extend its “resistance” to the West Bank to confront Israeli and US “conspiracies,” Abu Marzouk said.

Hamas Frustrated It Continues to Receive World Sympathy (satire)
Hamas has grown frustrated in recent months over its inability to convince the world that it is, indeed, a terrorist organization.

“The Hamas brand just isn’t sexy anymore,” explained a Hamas member wearing an ‘I Heart Terror’ t-shirt. “Look at other successful terrorist organizations; all of them are unilaterally recognized as evil, terrible. In the name of Allah, what do we have to do to get that kind of respect?”

Hamas is increasingly growing jealous of younger, hipper, terrorists. “Even from their last remaining sand hill in Syria, ISIS is still doing some really interesting things bringing terrorism to the masses,” another Hamas member told The Mideast Beast, “I mean, sure, some of their tactics have been a little old school. It’s like, ‘Uhhhh, the 14th century called, and they want their beheadings back.’ But the organization continues to do some really innovative things with marketing and technology in the West. And let’s not forget that al Qaeda is making a comeback! Honestly, what do we have to do to be taken seriously as a terror group?”

Emboldened to rise back up in the terror rankings and to be taken seriously as an opponent to anti-terror legends, such as SEAL Team Six or Diana of Themyscira, Hamas has upped its terror game in the last few corona-ridden months. In addition to having a little rocket fun by playing “target the Jew”, it also rounded up dissidents and conducted a couple public executions.
US sanctions NATO ally Turkey for buying Russian S-400 air defense system
The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on Turkey’s military procurement agency after the NATO ally defiantly bought Russia’s S-400 air defense system.

“Today’s action sends a clear signal that the United States will fully implement (US law) and will not tolerate significant transactions with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

President Donald Trump’s administration said it was banning all US export licenses to the Presidency of Defense Industries and refusing any visas for the agency’s president, Ismail Demir.

Russia last year delivered the S-400 air defense system despite warnings that it is not compatible with being part of the NATO alliance.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned that sanctions would be “disrespectful,” although his government went ahead with testing.

“The United States made clear to Turkey at the highest levels and on numerous occasions that its purchase of the S-400 system would endanger the security of US military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia’s defense sector, as well as Russian access to the Turkish armed forces and defense industry,” Pompeo said.
MEMRI: Editor Of AKP Mouthpiece Karagül: 'Army Of Heavens, Of Islam... The Return Of The Turks'
On December 10, 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan went to Baku, Azerbaijan, to preside over a military parade organized to celebrate Azerbaijan's victory over Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh.[1] Addressing the Victory Parade, Erdoğan recited a poem, which Iran regarded as support for the secession of Azerbaijani ethnic parts of Iran.[2] "They separated the Aras River and filled it with rocks and rods. I will not be separated from you. They have separated us forcibly," the poem reads.[3]

A day after Erdoğan delivered his speech in Baku, on December 11, 2020, Yeni Şafak editor-in-chief İbrahim Karagül published an article, titled "Army Of Heavens, Of Islam... The Return Of The Turks. Turkey Represents A 'Call' For All Oppressed Nations, Regions," stressing Turkey's role as the leader of the Muslim world, and as the leader of all the oppressed against the oppressor, i.e., the West.

Talking about Erdoğan's message in Baku, Karagül said: "The message given yesterday in Baku is not limited to Karabakh. It is not addressed to Armenia alone. That message is for those who have not been able to overcome their habit of managing relations with Turkey through tutelage, for all countries that have been making one plan after another in efforts to share the Muslim region among themselves, and for the whole world. This message being given from the Caucasus, a look at the world through the Caucasus, is much beyond the victory won in a 44-day [Azerbaijan-Armenia] war. That message is given not for these 44 days but for the whole 21st century. From now on, the same message will be given in other places, in other corners of the region as well, because Turkey is back."

Following is Yeni Şafak's translation of Karagül's article:[4]
"Turkey Is The Only Country In The World Resisting And Fighting On Behalf Of The World's Muslims"

"Turkey is the only country in the world resisting and fighting on behalf of the world's Muslims, on behalf of the Turkic world, on behalf of Africa, on behalf of those living in the 'Middle East,' on behalf of the 'Muslim Middle Zone,' which is the earth's main axis spanning the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

"Turkey is the only country to resist Western colonialism, which has been ongoing for centuries, which has afflicted every nation, drowning them in pain and suffering, trampling over their honor and identity. It is the only country to take confidence and ride to all climates roamed by this savageness.

"Turkey laid all its claims and calculations for the 21st century on the table with a foolproof plan for all preparations with respect to the great march by maintaining this upright stance not with heroism but with an intellectual leap, and patience, and wisdom.

"Turkey a 'call' to all nations, all countries.
Lebanon jails activist Kinda Al-Khatib for ‘collaborating’ with Israel
Lebanon’s military prosecution on Monday sentenced an activist to three years in prison for “collaborating” with Israel and traveling to the Jewish state, a judicial source said.

Kinda Al-Khatib, who is in her twenties, was arrested in June and charged with “collaborating with the enemy,” “entering the occupied Palestinian territories” and “collaborating with spies of the Israeli enemy.”

Lebanon is technically still at war with Israel and forbids its citizens from traveling there.

A United Nations peacekeeping force patrols the border area between the neighboring countries.

“The military court... issued a ruling imposing a three year prison sentence with hard labor on Kinda Al-Khatib,” said the judicial source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment on the issue.

Prior to her arrest, Khatib on Twitter had criticized Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite movement that fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel. Her family and activists have denounced her arrest as “political” because of her tweets against those in power.
Hezbollah: A systematic violator of international law - opinion
The laws of armed conflict, also known as international humanitarian law, are the manifestation of the various norms the international community has adopted as the legal framework for conducting war in modern times.

This corpus of law was put in place to ensure that the unimaginable suffering to which humanity was exposed during the two world wars in the 20th century would not repeat itself. Accordingly, these laws strike a balance between militaries’ need to win the wars they engage in, and their obligation to do so while minimizing harm to civilians. A clear indication of how these laws value human life can be found in the principle of distinction, one of the key principles of the laws of war.

This principle obligates all belligerents to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objectives and civilian objects, and to carry out attacks only against combatants and military objectives. Additionally, this principle states that combatants must distinguish themselves from the civilians around them (both enemy civilians and their own civilians), and they are forbidden from using the presence of civilians in their vicinity to render themselves immune from attack.

In defiance of this basic principle of the law, Hezbollah makes no effort to hide its intention to kill and maim Israeli civilians. One way it plans to do this is through cross-border ground raids in the next war with Israel. Hezbollah has repeatedly declared its intention of sending its elite Radwan Force death squads into the Galilee region, with the mission of attacking civilians.

The IDF’s uncovering of six large Hezbollah cross-border tunnels in 2018 exposed just how Hezbollah planned to carry out such an attack. In order to terrorize citizens across the border, Hezbollah publications have shown the group’s terrorists holding signs saying that combat in Syria is merely a “practice run” for their planned cross-border killing raids into Israel.
Trump’s Iran envoy: It’s a mistake to believe Iranian officials are replaceable
A common criticism of assassinations such as the one that took out Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last month is that those targeted are simply replaced while the regional conflict escalates. In the case of Iran, though, US President Donald Trump’s special representative for the Islamic Republic does not believe that conventional wisdom applies.

“I think it’s a mistake to believe that Iranian officials… are interchangeable cogs in a machine who have no personal aspects that are irreplaceable,” Elliott Abrams said in an interview with The Times of Israel last week.

Abrams shared an outlook on Tehran that appeared to echo that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Abrams said was “ahead of the curve” when he recognized the dangers of the Iran nuclear agreement and lobbied against its signing in 2015. Now, as President-elect Biden gears up to reenter the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action deserted by Trump in 2018, Abrams issued a last-minute warning, while appearing to take solace in the belief that the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran that he helped orchestrate to bury the JCPOA will be difficult to undo.

In defending the practice of targeted assassinations in Iran, Abrams first cited the January killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani, for which the US has taken responsibility, claiming that the late general was responsible for both past and future attacks on American forces in the region.
Biden Faces the Iran-Venezuela Alliance
What is different now is that Biden is coming into office with an established record of opposition to Maduro — any softening of his position would represent an unambiguous climb-down, handing Maduro a political victory.

By the same token, any weakening of the US position on Iran under Biden will send a signal to Tehran that it can continue its operations in Venezuela and, indeed, much of the rest of Latin America. Advocates of the 2015 nuclear deal would dismiss as overheated the contention that Iran’s actions in Venezuela should be a fundamental concern for US policy, but the reality is that even under the Trump administration, Iran has not rolled back its presence and influence in Venezuela.

For example, at the beginning of December, Adm. Craig Faller, head of United States Southern Command, revealed that operatives from Iran’s Quds Force — the international wing of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — had arrived in Venezuela to assist with Maduro’s project of remaining in power and that there had been an “uptick” in weapons exchanges between the two regimes.

A Biden administration may not succeed in ridding the world of Maduro and the ayatollahs, but it is in a position to disrupt and break their ongoing alliance through increased policing of commercial traffic, military transfers, and financial transactions between the two. Conversely, restoring the Iranian nuclear deal will do little to reduce Iran’s footprint in Latin America, whatever other security benefits a Biden administration believes it might bring.

I’m not going to predict definitively which path Biden will take. However, I do think there’s another, deeper difference between Biden and Obama that should be accounted for in any assessment of our new commander in chief. In his dealings with Iran, Venezuela, and many other authoritarian regimes, Obama clearly communicated his belief that all these countries had legitimate historical gripes with the United States — and that as a consequence, the US stance towards them should be chastened. During his half-century in politics, Joe Biden has yet to exhibit the same tendency.
Iranian FM Zarif: “Biden’s America Will Be Obligated to Rejoin JCPOA”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif was interviewed by Iranian journalist Mehdi Nasiri in a video that was uploaded to the Arman Media YouTube channel on December 9, 2020. Zarif said that the United States has forfeited its rights according to the JCPOA because it has withdrawn from the agreement, however it is still obliged to abide by the agreement and must lift all its sanctions on Iran. Zarif joked that he wished the U.S. would leave Planet Earth, just like it withdrew from the JCPOA. He said that President Elect Biden will be obligated to return to the JCPOA. Zarif added that America “owes” Iran for arming other countries in the region. He explained that the Western powers tried to include Iran's missile program and its regional activity in the JCPOA but failed and had to compromise about it. Hence, Zarif added, they do not have the option to demand the inclusion of this issues now. The Iranian FM added that he cannot conceive of a situation in which Iran would officially recognize Israel. Furthermore, he said that Iran’s strategy for confronting the issue of Israel would not be to throw the “kikes” into the sea or to initiate a military attack against it, rather it has suggested to the U.N. that a popular referendum, including Palestinians in the land and in the diaspora, would resolve this matter.

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