Friday, December 18, 2020

From Ian:

Eugene Kontorovich: The Israel-Morocco peace deal underscores a double standard on the West Bank versus Western Sahara
The basic, universal rule for determining a new country’s borders is to look to the borders of the preceding political entity in the territory, be it a colony, administrative district or Soviet republic. In Israel’s case, it was Mandatory Palestine, which included all of the West Bank. Concerns that the Trump administration’s actions could be used to justify Russia’s takeover of Crimea are baseless. Crimea was indisputably part of Ukraine, a sovereign country.

The Polisario demands a country of its own. Yet only a few countries have recognized the purported Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. Self-determination in international law doesn’t typically mean the right of a people to have its own country. It can be satisfied by some degree of self-governance, and autonomy in internal matters such as language and culture. This is why the U.S. recognition was coupled with an endorsement of an “autonomy plan” for Western Sahara.

The Palestinians today have vastly more autonomy than the Saharawi would have in the Moroccan plan, which makes Rabat the final arbiter of Saharawi law. Ramallah, by contrast, has the last word on its own legislation. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas, for better or worse, govern the daily lives of their people.

The Obama administration also supported Moroccan sovereignty with Saharwai autonomy, as did other countries such as Spain and France—and even the Palestinian Authority. Morocco’s position has bipartisan support in Congress, and thus the U.S. will likely maintain the recognition policy.

There is a huge gap between many countries’ stances on Western Sahara and the West Bank that can’t be explained by legal differences. It will be a bad look for a Biden administration to harp on Israeli “occupation” and “settlers” while maintaining recognition of Morocco’s 1975 takeover. The U.S. recognition makes eventually doing the same for Israel in the West Bank much easier, and indeed a matter of consistency.
Rights Abusers at UN Oppose ‘Country-Specific’ Resolutions – Unless They Target Israel
Having supported more than a dozen U.N. General Assembly resolutions condemning Israel in the past two weeks, the representatives of some of the world’s most egregious rights-abusing regimes complained on Wednesday about “country-specific” resolutions targeting some among their own ranks – Iran, Russia, North Korea, and the Assad regime – saying they violate the cherished U.N. principles of “objectivity, non-selectivity, and impartiality.”

Among the most outspoken critics during Wednesday’s plenary session in New York were the delegates from China and Cuba, governments whose widely-documented human rights abuses at home have attracted not a single General Assembly resolution this year.

At the meeting, the assembly considered texts from its Third Committee – which deals with social, cultural, and humanitarian issues – including country-specific resolutions relating to the human rights situations in Iran, Syria, North Korea, and the Russian-occupied Crimea peninsula of Ukraine.

All four passed, but with sizeable numbers of “no” votes, and large numbers of abstentions:
-- The Iran resolution passed by 82 votes to 30, with 64 abstentions
-- The Syria resolution passed by 101 votes to 13, with 62 abstentions
-- The Crimea resolution passed by 64 votes to 23, with 86 abstentions
-- The North Korea resolution passed without a recorded vote (although several countries – including China, Iran and Cuba – then disassociated themselves from the “consensus.”)
Will Biden break the pattern of how US presidents approach Israel?
Patterns are everywhere: in nature, in art, in human behavior, in interpersonal relationships. They also exist in diplomacy. And for students of diplomacy, or more specifically those who carefully watch the ebb and flow of US-Israel relations, there is one particular pattern that may appear somewhat disconcerting as US President-elect Joe Biden is poised to take office in just over three weeks.

Veteran US Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross identified this pattern in Doomed to Succeed, his 2015 book on the history of US-Israel relations from presidents Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

“When an administration is judged by its successors to be too close to Israel, we [the US] distance ourselves from the Jewish state,” he wrote. And then Ross gave numerous examples.

“[Dwight D.] Eisenhower believed that Truman was too supportive of Israel, so he felt an imperative to demonstrate that we were not partial to Israel, that we were in fact willing to seek closer ties to our real friends in the region – the Arabs

“President [Richard] Nixon, likewise, felt that Lyndon Johnson was too pro-Israel. In his first two years, he, too, distanced us from Israel and showed sensitivity to Arab concerns. President George H.W. Bush believed his former boss, Ronald Reagan, suffered from the same impulse of being too close to Israel. He, too, saw virtue in fostering distance.”

And finally, Ross continued, “President Obama, at the outset of his administration, certainly saw George W. Bush as having cost us in the Arab and Muslim world at least in part because he was unwilling to allow any gap to emerge between the United States and Israel.”

UN Watch: UN’s Virtual Palestinian Exhibit Distorts Facts
Since 1977, the UN’s “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” held on or around November 29, has provided an annual opportunity for the PLO and its supporters to target Israel.

This year, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the propaganda is spreading far beyond the confines of the UN’s New York headquarters with the launch of a virtual exhibit that relies on inflammatory and misleading imagery, takes source material from an antisemitic website, and uses distorted and de-contextualized quotes.

The UN exhibit “examines the plight of the Palestinian people” by “focusing on the wall built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which it explores through the words of “advocates and public personalities,” and through images from “artists and human rights activists who have used the wall as a canvas to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

What the UN-hosted exhibit does not say is that over 90 percent of Israel’s security barrier, which it misleadingly refers to as “the wall,” is made up of an electronic fence. Only 10 percent of the barrier is a concrete structure, mainly limited to highly populated urban areas such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Qalqiliyah and Tulkarm.

The exhibit describes the security barrier as an illegal abuse of Palestinian human rights concerned with “confiscating Palestinian land, demolishing Palestinian property, including homes, dispossessing and displacing Palestinian families, and de facto annexing more land.”

What the exhibit fails to mention are the reasons why the barrier was constructed: no mention of the Palestinian terrorism that claimed over a thousand Israeli lives, and injured thousands more during the Second Intifada in the early 2000s; no mention of the suicide bombers dispatched from Palestinian towns and cities to wreak death and destruction on Israeli buses and cafes; and no acknowledgment of the human rights of Israelis or their security needs.

Ultimately, the security barrier reduced the number of terror attacks originating in the West Bank by some 90%, demonstrating both its necessity and its effectiveness.
Palestinian leadership continues lying at UNGA - opinion
The Palestinians, still floating rounds of rhetoric and propaganda – invoking such inflammatory verbiage as Nazis, apartheid and worse – reject recent normalization treaties with Israel by Arab states, the UAE and Bahrain. While these Arab states embrace a two-state solution, they also see the great short-term benefits building enterprise with Israel.

The normalization narrative weakens Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas as it is a departure from the PLO mantra, much less the PLO charter, which denies the legitimacy of Israel, the existence of a historical or religious ties to “Palestine” and labels Zionism a racist, imperialist, fascist and colonialist political movement. At the very least, archaeological finds have given the Lying King a long run at the United Nations. As for colonization, Israel is slightly larger than New Jersey.

Palestinian and Arab rhetoric seeks to revert to the 1967 borders and designate east Jerusalem (the Old City) as a capital. Turning back the clock 54 years is unlikely, if not impossible. Truly, it is mere staging for Israel’s destruction.

Meanwhile, the rhetoric by Afghanistan, Iran and other outliers make glorifying speeches at perennial Palestinian pep rallies. They cry out against “denying the historical and legal rights of the Palestinian people... It is time to stand for justice.” These lines get delivered with perfection and even a straight face. The story of lies and deception is flawless.

At the United Nations, art does not imitate life. The refrain to the Palestinians simply falls on deaf ears. Come to the negotiating table and negotiate face-to-face with Israel. You will get less than what you want but more than what you have today.

UN Watch: UNGA’s Iran Resolution Includes Massive Praise; Human Rights Package Ignores China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Venezuela
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, an independent non-governmental human rights organization based in Geneva, issued the following three comments after the United Nations General Assembly concluded its 2020 agenda on “promotion and protection of human rights” by adopting resolutions on only five specific situations—Iran, North Korea, Crimea, Syria and Myanmar—while ignoring human rights abuses in China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Turkey, Pakistan, Vietnam, Algeria, and 175 other countries.

Three Comments by UN Watch’s Hillel Neuer:
1. Iran Resolution Includes 9 Sections of Praise
Today’s UNGA resolution on Iran, co-sponsored by Canada, UK, France, Germany and all other EU countries, opens with nine separate sections of undue and false praise for the oppressive regime, even as the rest of the text calls out Tehran’s abuses.

The sections of praise include:
• The resolution’s Paragraph 5 showers praise on Iran’s “continuing efforts…to host a large number of Afghans,” even as Iranian border guards tortured and drowned dozens of Afghan migrants in May.
• Paragraph 6 “welcomes the commitments made by the Iranian authorities with regard to improving the situation of women,” even though the regime systematically represses women with the compulsory hijab law, and just sent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh back to prison to complete a 38-year sentence for defending women who removed their headscarves.
• Paragraph 8 “welcomes the engagement” of Iran with different UN human rights bodies, even as the regime has denied entry for a decade to the UNHRC’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran.
• Paragraph 3 commends Iran’s “reduction in number of executions” even though in September it executed wrestler Navid Afkari for protesting the regime and, just last week, hung dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam in what France called a “barbaric” act.

This excessive and undue praise supported by the EU co-sponsors is especially inappropriate just days after EU leaders postponed an online Europe-Iran Business Forum in protest of the killing of Ruhollah Zam.
Defense cooperation between Israel, Gulf states possible - officials
Israel is open to cooperating militarily with Arab states who till recently were official adversaries of the Jewish state, a top Israeli security official said Tuesday.

“Of course, there are a lot of advantages,” said Moshe Patel, who heads the nation’s Missile Defense Organization, when asked about possible missile technology exchanges between Israel and its newly found allies in the Gulf. “That information can be shared.”

Patel’s remarks were made on the backdrop of Jerusalem’s latest successful military exercise, which saw multilayered testing of the entire Israeli missile defense arsenal.

The extensive land and sea-based drill, conducted with the presence of representatives from both Israeli and American missile agencies, simultaneously tested the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems, proving the arrays’ adaptability and interchangeability.

While Patel acknowledged that overtures have been made from Gulf states on the issue of missile defense cooperation, he noted the subject would have to be reviewed and approved by governments in Jerusalem and Washington and that no tangible advancements should be expected in the immediate future.

“Access to Israeli technology and innovation, including in the defense realm, is a key interest of Arab Gulf states and a key driver for this summer’s normalization deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain,” Hugh Lovatt, Policy Fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told The Media Line.

“Gulf Arab states have grown increasingly concerned by Iran’s missile and drone capabilities, and their transfer to regional armed groups. Repeated missile attacks against Saudi locations by Houthi rebels, and the September 2019 attack against Aramco blamed on Iran and its proxies, combined with the lack of any significant US response, has driven home these vulnerabilities and concerns in Arab Gulf states.”
Progressives line up their own national security recruits for Biden
For example, Matt Duss, the top foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is being put forward as deputy national security adviser or special adviser to the secretary of State. Trita Parsi, co-founder of the Quincy Institute and a former United Nations official, is being recommended to oversee Middle East affairs on the National Security Council. Kate Gould, a national security adviser to Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), is being put up for senior policy adviser for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

Mike Darner, executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, should be considered for a position in policy development at the White House, the groups recommend.

They'd like to see Alison Friedman, executive director of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable and an expert on human trafficking who served in the State Department, as Biden's undersecretary of State for civilian security, democracy and human rights.

And another recommendation is for Noah Gottschalk, a senior policy adviser at Oxfam America, to be named deputy assistant secretary of State overseeing the bureau of population, refugees and migration.

A number of others on the list are well-known in defense and foreign policy circles: Bruce Riedel, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, is a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Near East and South Asia. Joe Cirincione is the former president of the Ploughshares Fund, a leading advocate for nuclear disarmament. And Heather Hurlburt is director of the new models of policy change for New America's Political Reform program.
Why Samantha Power Would Be A Disastrous Biden Foreign Policy Pick
As if 2020 couldn’t get worse, recent news suggests President-elect Joe Biden is considering Samantha Power to lead the United States Agency for International Development. This comes after Biden’s choice of Susan Rice as the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, giving her broad sway over his administration’s approach to immigration, health care, and racial issues.

While Biden hasn’t made a final decision, Power’s return would be another signal Biden plans to operate his White House as Obama’s third term, or worse, as the first term Hillary Clinton never won.

Power has been testing the waters for a while. In November, Power said she’d be happy to take up a job in the new Biden administration. Then, a few weeks back, she wrote a long essay for Foreign Affairs titled “The Can-Do Power,” outlining what she thinks should be the future foreign policy of the new administration:
Today, the fact that fewer and fewer people identify the United States as capable of solving big problems should be a major concern for those who believe that U.S. leadership must play a central role in tackling climate change and other shared global problems whose solutions demand both expertise and effective coalition building.

The essay has nine mentions of immigration and migration, eight mentions of climate, and, conspicuously, zero mentions of Libya.

Power is a die-hard proponent of using America’s military might to push leftist values across the world, a worldview she says she internalized growing up fatherless then working as a journalist in the Balkans during the Bosnian war. Born in Ireland, she migrated to the United States but considers it her duty to lead America on moral crusades around the world.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi to visit UAE Jewish community, inaugurate new school
Israel's Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef left on Thursday to visit the Jewish community of the United Arab Emirates marking the first time a sitting chief rabbi has visited an Arab country.

During the visit, scheduled to extend between December 17-20, he will participate in a number of exciting activities such as the inauguration of the newly certified Jewish nursery school and in a special ceremony, invest Rabbi Levi Duchman as Rabbi of the Emirati Jewish community.

“The visit of the Chief Rabbi is as historic as it is a great honor for us to host him here in the Emirates,” said Duchman, rabbi of the JCC where Yosef will be hosted as guest of honor for Shabbat.

"We are excited to welcome him as we dedicate and break ground on several of our new institutions, which are being constructed with the swiftness and efficiency for which the UAE has become world-famous," Duchman added.
Over 50,000 Israelis have already visited the UAE since peace deal signing
Over 50,000 Israelis have visited the United Arab Emirates since the recent normalization pact between Israel and the UAE, according to a report this week in The Washington Post.

That number is the result of only two weeks of open commercial flights between the countries, which agreed to open the diplomatic and tourism floodgates in a historic agreement signed in August. Tens of thousands more were expected to visit during the Hanukkah holiday, according to the Post.

The report also said that the Jewish community center in Dubai, the UAE capital, is increasing its staff from five to “about 30” employees, and that nearly 150 restaurants have begun serving kosher food. The center is planning to build a mikvah “befitting Dubai’s luxury standards.” “It will probably be the nicest mikvah in the world,” said Rabbi Mendel Duchman, who works for the JCC.

Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE, which preceded others signed with Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, was a watershed moment for the Jewish state’s relationship with the Arab world. Until August, Israel only had formal relations with two Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan.
UAE Travel Site Leaked Israelis’ Personal Info in Hack Attack
Israelis are some of the most enthusiastic globetrotters in the world, and the pandemic — difficult for many reasons in any case — has deprived them of their favorite past time.

But these travelers undoubtedly thought life was beginning finally to return to normal with the establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and direct flights between the two.

This week, a new misery has been added to the woes of the Israeli travelers.

A security breach was inadvertently discovered on the Emirati site of Sharaf Travels, where many Israelis have begun to book their vacations and obtain their visas to their exotic new destinations.

Their personal details — including the PDFs of their visa certificates — have been exposed to the eyes of others, according to a report by the Hebrew-language Channel N12 news team.

Many Israelis have already taken the opportunity to fly and vacation in Dubai, and many are still planning their upcoming trip there. A large proportion of them use websites to obtain deals, and even to purchase and issue the tourist visa required to enter the Emirates.
Moroccan UN Ambassador pledges peace with Israel at Hanukkah lighting
Moroccan Ambassador Omar Hilale pledged to build a bridge of peace with Israel as he lit the eighth candle of Hanukkah with his Israeli counterpart Gilad Erdan at a special ceremony in New York.

"There is no alternative to peace. We are all the sons of Abraham and the sons of Abraham, they always at the end of the day will sit together to make peace together and to build a future together for the next generation," Hilale said at the ceremony.

A deep belief in peace, he said, is the reason he stood "today to light Hanukkah candles" which are symbols of hope.

"Hanukkah is existing together. Hanukkah is loving each other. Hanukkah is rejecting violence. Hanukkah is building bridges between people and civilizations. This is the understanding we have in our hearts, Hilale said.

He joined Israel's mission in New York just one week after the announcement that his country had become the fourth Muslim nation to sign a normalization deal with Israel under the rubric of the US brokered Abraham Accords.

Reported visit of top official to Israel sparks outcry in Pakistan
An adviser to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Israel in late November and discussed moving toward better ties between the countries, which do not have formal relations, two prominent Pakistanis have claimed in recent days.

The claims from a Pakistani counterterror analyst and a UK-based political scientist who writes for a Pakistani newspaper have led to a backlash on Pakistani social media, with the country’s ruling party wading into the controversy to try and deflect blame toward the nation’s former ruler.

Their assertion came days after Israeli daily Israel Hayom reported that a top adviser from an unnamed Muslim-majority country visited Israel in late November for talks.

The claims could not be independently verified.

Noor Dahri, Executive Director of the UK-based Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism thinktank, detailed the alleged visit in a series of Twitter posts on December 15.

He said an unnamed close aide to Khan, who also has good ties with the Trump administration, was dispatched from Islamabad to Tel Aviv via London on November 20. There he supposedly met with several Foreign Ministry officials and conveyed Khan’s desire for closer relations between the two nations.
What do Pakistanis have to say about recognising Israel?
A debate about establishing relations with the Jewish state has once again taken off in the South Asian nation. Here’s where Pakistanis fall on the matter.

When he was a student many years ago, Zain Zaidi, 34, joined a charged mob of young men who marched down a street, stomped their feet and shouted slogans against Israel.

He was there when a crowd burned the flag of the United States, the ‘Great Satan’ who backs the Jewish state, in one such protest.

Growing up in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, he, like many others, couldn’t escape seeing the Israeli imprint on daily life. Across the country in public colleges and universities, religious groups had painted the Israeli and American flags on the ground so people could walk over them.

But Zaidi is now a sales executive in a multinational IT firm and he has travelled enough to make him question some of his earlier beliefs.

“Is there any weight in what we say about the rights of Palestinians? Does anyone listen to us? Shouldn’t we try to fix our own house first?” he tells TRT World.

This reasoning is resonating with others. In the past week, some senior Pakistani journalists have openly suggested that Islamabad should consider normalising ties with Tel Aviv to remain in step with shifting geopolitics in the Middle East.
Israel's Left has been rendered hollow
Israel is undergoing the gravest political crisis in its history. The last two years have seen a never-ending election campaign that stems from the preoccupation with the political and legal fate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose involvement in corruption cases has led to prolonged public protests and the creation of new political entities.

But something is not working. Dialogue is essential, but it will always lack meaning if millions of Palestinians live under military rule; if hundreds of Israelis cannot get married in Israel, and if secular Israelis do not have access to public transportation on weekends and holidays.

There's meaning to taking a stance in the era of fake news, too. Israeli needs the Left. When I meet with the heads of ultra-Orthodox yeshivas, they scowl at the word "Left." For them, leftists are those who betray the public, who love Arabs more than Jews, who hate Judaism and whose values differ from their traditional views of family and community, and who would do anything just to oust Netanyahu.

But the Left embodies a holistic worldview, one that values mutual solidarity and takes human dignity seriously.

The Left values the economy. It does not seek to abolish the free market. Just the opposite, it supports small businesses and entrepreneurship.

The Left values peace. The use of force should be a last resort. Morality is important not only in treating others but also in understanding what the prolonged use of excessive force does to all of us, especially our youth.
Global Search Begins for Hezbollah Assets to Compensate Israeli Victims of Burgas Terror Attack
Attorneys for some 50 victims of terror who were affected by a suicide bus bombing in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in 2012 — including relative of five Israelis who died in the attack, and a Bulgarian bus driver, as well as another 40 people who were wounded — have triggered a search for Hezbollah assets in the amount of $100 million in court-ordered compensation for the families.

The suicide bomber in the Burgas attack was the son of a Hezbollah financier, according to the court proceedings in Bulgaria. Two male terrorists sentenced to life in prison in absentia for their part in the attack, were organizers of the attack.

In addition to a prison sentence, the two terrorists will have to pay more than $67 million in compensation to the families, if they are caught. When the total compensation package is totaled, that figure could reach as high as $100 million, according to a report by The National.

“We are looking all over the world for assets in each part of the world, in every country,” said Yaki Rand, attorney acting on behalf of the families. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to share with everyone, including Hezbollah, our methods and our system of finding these assets. As you can imagine, we have techniques on how to find them.”

Rand has filed claims in the Israeli court system against two Iranian banks and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which the victims allege failed to take steps to prevent the attacks.
PA announces two-week closure throughout West Bank as virus surges
The Palestinian Authority announced a two-week closure in the entire West Bank Thursday evening, after three weeks of tightening restrictions failed to curb the coronavirus outbreak among its residents.

“We know that lockdown has a negative impact on the economy. When we’re given the choice between the lives of you and your loved ones, and between financial profits generated by economic activities, we absolutely chose the former,” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said in a statement to the populace.

All schools, universities, restaurants, barbershops, gyms and leisure venues in the West Bank will be closed starting Thursday night, Shtayyeh said. As part of the lockdown, a nightly curfew will be extended for another two weeks, beginning on Thursday night. The West Bank has been under a nightly curfew since early December.

The new closure will not be as strict as some previous lockdowns, in which all shops were closed except for pharmacies and grocery stores. However, any stores and government offices not closed by the official decree will have to work with no more than 30 percent of their normal staff, Shtayyeh said.

Entering and leaving Israel for work will be banned, Shtayyeh said. Tens of thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel for work on a daily basis, most of whom work in construction and agriculture.

The PA can do little to enforce such a ban, as the decision to close checkpoints is in Israel’s hands, not Ramallah’s. Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, declined to comment.
PLO's Role Now Devoid of Any Substance, Jordanian Critic Says

Jpost Editorial: Turkey finally faces the consequences of its actions
After years in which Turkey’s leadership has threatened the region, invaded countries and attacked minority groups while working with Iran and Russia, the US has finally slapped sanctions on Ankara over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system. The sanctions come after years during which Washington tried every avenue to get Turkey not to acquire or use the new system.

Senior US officials said in a call with reporters this week that Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s and its refusal to reverse its decision left the United States with no other choice.

“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,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

Turkey’s drift away from its allies in the West, to become an authoritarian state in which women, minorities and dissidents are crushed under the boot of totalitarianism, has been a long process. The regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled the country for almost two decades. It has fundamentally changed Turkey from a country that was once an ally of Israel and the US into a country that hosts Hamas and recruits Syrian mercenaries and religious extremists. Turkey had a chance in the early 2000s to become a country of laws and freedoms, to become more like countries in the West. It didn’t need to sacrifice its strength to do that, Israel has also had to deal with the complexities of the region while preserving freedom of the press and rights for minorities and differing sexual orientations. However, in Israel we have a model of balancing rights and the need for security. We have a critical press and gay pride parades. In Turkey, they have dismantled every aspect of freedom they once had. The country is the largest jailer of journalists in the world. Dissidents have been forced to flee or go into hiding and the opposition party has been jailed. People are imprisoned just for tweets that are critical of Erdogan.
Turkey Has Evacuated Seven Syrian Military Posts – Source
Turkey has evacuated seven military observation posts in northwest Syria, pulling back troops from territory controlled by the Syrian government to areas held by insurgents and Turkey-backed rebels, a Turkish source said on Friday.

Turkey had set up a dozen military posts in the region in 2018 as part of an ill-fated deal it reached with Russia and Iran to calm fighting between Syrian government troops and rebels. Ankara backs the forces fighting Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow and Tehran back the Syrian president.

Several Turkish military posts were surrounded last year by the Russian-backed Syrian government forces. Turkey vowed at the time to maintain its presence at all of them but it started withdrawing in October.

The source, who requested anonymity, said the last of the evacuations was completed on Thursday night, and the forces were being redeployed within territory controlled by the Ankara-backed forces under an understanding reached with Russia. “It is not in the form of troop withdrawal or reducing their numbers. The situation is just about changing location,” the source said.

Syrian rebels say Turkey retains between 10,000 and 15,000 troops in northwest Syria, alongside rebel fighters backed by Turkey and jihadist forces it has committed to disarm and contain.
INSS: The Struggle for Control of Southern Syria: Where is Israel?
Significance and Recommendations for Israel

Since the onset of the civil war in Syria, Israel has remained on the sidelines, and has avoided intervention in the struggle for control in southern Syria, only conducting military action against concrete threats in the area. With the return of the Assad regime to southern Syria, Israel terminated Operation Good Neighbor, which was designed to provide humanitarian aid to the local population, mainly in communities close to the border in the Golan Heights, to attain stability and prevent terrorist actions against Israel.

Israel’s policy of non-intervention, exclusive of overt and covert attacks aimed at preventing terrorism and the transferal of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah via Syria, has enabled Iran, while fighting at the side of the Assad regime, to take advantage of the opportunity to build military capabilities against Israel, and to consolidate its overriding influence in Syria for the long term. Iran has thus been able to establish another front against Israel, in addition to the Lebanese front, for use in times of war or escalation. Once Israel realized this state of affairs, it was forced to operate a military response to the Iranian consolidation, while at the same time relying on Russia to remove the Iranian military presence from Syria and design a future arrangement comfortable for Israel. Here, however, Moscow has not yet delivered on this promise. On a related note, the Israeli policy in southern Syria is essentially another version of its policy of non-intervention that has enabled the Iranian-Shi'ite axis to build military outposts and terror cells in the south aimed against Israel.

In order to prevent Iran from using its proxies to create a border of friction in the Golan Heights marked by terrorism and high tension, Israel should take advantage of the weakness of the Iranian-Shiite axis, including the Assad regime. It can use its mechanism for coordination and deconfliction with Russia to adopt a proactive policy in southern Syria and attack the Iranian proxies there, including Hezbollah forces. At the same time, Israel should strengthen local forces, both Sunni and Druze, and forge connections by means of humanitarian aid – food, fuel, and health services – with elements in the local population that oppose the regime. This will create an "island of Israeli influence," thereby disrupting the drive to consolidate the Iranian and its proxies presence in southern Syria.
There’s No Reason for Biden to Reward Iran
Recent weeks have provided remedial instruction for those unwilling or unable to acknowledge the reality of Iran's outlaw government. On December 9, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif gave a Persian-language interview in which he said that "America is in no position to set conditions for its return" to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA. Then he used anti-Semitic slang to express his support for Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's "popular referendum" that would decide whether Israel should continue to exist. "We're not talking about throwing the k—s into the sea, or about a military attack, or about suicide operations," Zarif said. A simple up-or-down vote should do the trick.

No one in the English-speaking world would have known about Zarif's comments were it not for the indefatigable translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Needless to say, when his despicable language was publicized, Zarif claimed in a tweet that, ha-ha-ha, he was just joking. "I was mocking the allegation that Iran seeks to ‘throw the Jews into the sea' and reiterating our solution is a referendum with participation of ALL: Jews, Muslims, Christians," he wrote. In a favorite trick of demagogues everywhere, Zarif cast himself as the victim, and said it was really his critics who were biased and beneath contempt. How could anyone accuse Minister Zarif or his government of anti-Semitism? It's not like his supreme leader denies the Holocaust and says Israel won't exist in 20 years. "MEMRI," Zarif wrote, "has sunk to a new low."

It is Zarif who's hit bottom. Around the time the foreign minister dropped the k-bomb, Iran executed the 47-year-old Ruhollah Zam, an Iranian journalist and dissident who had been living in France until Tehran's agents lured him under false pretenses to Iraq, where they kidnapped and arrested him. Zam's killing was intended to demonstrate that no Iranian who speaks out against the mullahs is safe. It also sparked an international outcry from the very people whose good opinion Iran needs the most. It's "another horrifying human rights violation by the Iranian regime," tweeted incoming national security adviser Jake Sullivan. "We will join our partners in calling out and standing up to Iran's abuses."

One way to stand up to "Iran's abuses" would be resisting the temptation to reenter the nuclear deal. Using the sanctions leverage bequeathed to him by Trump, Biden might try linking not only missiles and terrorism but also human rights to a renewal of negotiations. Iranian refusal would not be a "failure of diplomacy." It would be confirmation that Tehran has no interest in changing its ways. The mullahs understand that the second they relax their grip, or appear weak vis-à-vis America, their government will crumble. Paying them off to abide by an agreement whose terms they set is an evasion. Stability in the Middle East won't come when America rejoins the JCPOA. It will arrive when the Iranian people put an end to the Islamic revolution.
Iran Rejects IAEA Chief’s Suggestion That New Nuclear Deal Needed After Biden Takes Office
Iran‘s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday rejected the UN atomic watchdog chief’s suggestion that reviving Iran’s nuclear agreement after a new US administration comes to power would require striking a new deal.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Rafael Grossi, who heads the IAEA that polices Iran‘s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, said there had been too many breaches by Iran for the agreement to simply snap back into place when US President-elect Joe Biden takes office next month.

Biden has said the United States will rejoin the deal “if Iran resumes strict compliance.”

After President Donald Trump quit the deal in 2018 and reimposed US sanctions, Iran responded by breaching many of the deal’s restrictions.

“Presenting any assessment on how the commitments are implemented is absolutely beyond the mandate of the agency and should be avoided,” Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to IAEA in Vienna, tweeted. “@iaeaorg played its part during negotiations on the JCPoA.”
Satellite images show Iran expanding nuclear facility at Fordo
Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the US over its nuclear program, satellite photos show.

Iran has not publicly acknowledged any new construction at Fordo, whose discovery by the West in 2009 came in an earlier round of brinkmanship before world powers struck the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

While the purpose of the building remains unclear, any work at Fordo likely will trigger new concerns in the waning days of the Trump administration before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. Already, Iran is building at its Natanz nuclear facility after a mysterious explosion in July there that Tehran described as a sabotage attack.

"Any changes at this site will be carefully watched as a sign of where Iran's nuclear program is headed," said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who studies Iran.

Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose inspectors are in Iran as part of the nuclear deal, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The IAEA as of yet has not publicly disclosed if Iran informed it of any construction at Fordo.

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