By Nicholas Blanford: Having successfully propped up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against an array of armed rebel groups for more than six years, Iran appears to be preparing the ground for a long-term presence in the war-ravaged country, causing rising alarm in neighboring Israel, its bitter foe, and garnering the attention of Washington.
Iran has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to buttress Syria’s economy, oversees a multinational Shiite militia force to bolster Mr. Assad’s flagging army, and trains Syrian militia networks based on Iran’s Basij paramilitary volunteer force.
But Iran’s success and expanding reach into Syria, which serves as Tehran’s vital geopolitical link to its client Hezbollah in Lebanon, has made Syria potentially a key arena if the US wants to undermine Iran’s regional stance, analysts say.
As a consequence, President Trump’s administration has signaled an intention to roll back the Islamic Republic’s influence, not only in Syria but elsewhere in the region.
By Daniel Pipes: “We’re in dire straits,” Jordan’s King Abdullah said half a year ago. After recently completing a week of intensive travels and discussions throughout Jordan, I found no one disagreeing with that assessment. Jordan may no longer be hyper-vulnerable and under siege, as it was in the past, but it does face possibly unprecedented problems.
Created out of thin air by Winston Churchill in 1921 to accommodate British imperial interests, the Emirate of Transjordan, now the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, for almost a century has led a precarious existence. Particularly dangerous moments came in 1967, when pan-Arabist pressures led King Hussein to make war on Israel and lose the West Bank; in 1970, when a Palestinian revolt nearly toppled the king; and 1990-1991, when pro-Saddam Hussein sentiments pushed him to join a hopeless and evil cause.
Today’s dangers are manifold. Islamic State lurks in Syria and Iraq, just beyond the border, attractive to a small but real minority of Jordanians. The once-robust trade with those two countries has nearly collapsed — and with it, Jordan’s lucrative transit role. In a region bountiful in oil and gas, Jordan is one of the very few countries to have almost no petroleum resources. City dwellers receive water just one day a week and country dwellers often even less. Tourism has declined, thanks to the Middle East’s notorious volatility. King Abdullah’s recent assertion of authority grates on those demanding more democracy.
Jason Greenblatt meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
By Barney Breen-Portnoy: The Trump administration seems to be adopting a “bottom-up” approach to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking that represents a dramatic shift from that held by the Obama administration over the past eight years, a former State Department Middle East negotiator told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.
“I think it is too early to tell about the details, but if you look at the elements of what Trump is trying to do, they are fundamentally different from what Obama tried to do,” Aaron David Miller — a vice president at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, DC and a CNN global affairs analyst — said. “However, whether or not they end up in the same place is another matter.”
The Trump administration’s apparent goal, in Miller’s view, is not to reach a comprehensive peace deal now, but rather lay the groundwork for a potential future one — “by working with the Israelis on a set of confidence-builders on one hand, and trying to engage the Arabs states on the other, to get them to press the Palestinians and offer the Israelis incentives to go farther.”
By Josh Rogin: The Trump administration’s budding efforts to establish a new Middle East diplomatic process are about to run into some stiff headwinds at home. Many in Congress want to cancel all U.S. aid to the Palestinians because of payments made to militants who attack Israelis. President Trump will soon have to decide if confronting the Palestinians on that terrorist incitement is more urgent than pursuing a pathway to peace.
Trump conducted his first phone call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday, and White House Israel affairs adviser Jason Greenblatt is headed to the region this week. On Greenblatt’s agenda will be whether the U.S. and Israeli governments should raise the pressure on the Palestinian Authority to stop paying the families of Palestinians imprisoned or killed after attacking Israeli or American civilians, a practice both governments believe incentivizes violence.
By Clifford D. May:This palm-fringed oasis in the Jordan Valley has been continuously inhabited for 10,000 years. That justifies it billing itself as the “oldest city in the world.”
Officers of the Palestinian National Security Force (NSF) headquartered here will proudly tell you that it’s now among the safest places in the Arab Middle East, and that their paramilitary organization is an important reason why. They’re also grateful for the training, arms, ammunition, equipment and even buildings being provided by American taxpayers.
This arrangement was agreed to by the Israelis who, in 1994, gave the Palestinian Authority administrative control over Jericho and other West Bank cities.
Could the next step be a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Count me among those who see that as unlikely anytime soon no matter how energetic, determined and skillful the diplomacy of the Trump administration turns out to be.
By Anthony Cappacio: Iran is likely to go on an international shopping spree for surface warships, submarines and anti-ship missiles after the expiration in 2020 of a United Nations resolution prohibiting it from acquiring sophisticated weapons, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence.
The expiration “will allow Iran to pursue foreign acquisitions that have been inaccessible since sanctions were imposed,” according to a new assessment of Iran’s naval forces, strategy and capability obtained by Bloomberg News. Entitled “Iran’s Naval Forces: A Tale of Two Navies,” the 44-page publication is an update to a 2009 version.
By Shlomo Brom and Ofir Winter:
Without any formal ceremonies and far below the media’s radar, Egypt and Hamas have reached a series of security, political, and economic understandings in early 2017 aimed at establishing a basis for better relations between them. A Hamas delegation, headed by Vice-President of the Political Bureau Ismail Haniyeh and members of the Political Bureau Mousa Abu Marzook and Rawhi Mushtaha visited Cairo for several days in late January, during which the delegation met with Egyptian security personnel, led by Khaled Fawzy, the director of the General Intelligence Directorate. A Hamas security delegation, which included a senior representative of Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam military arm, went on a follow-up visit in early February. The visits by the official delegations were the culmination of unofficial feelers conducted in October–November 2016, which included visits to Egypt by media, academic, and business figures from the Gaza Strip.
According to media reports, the political delegation accepted Cairo’s demands that Hamas stop the smuggling of weapons and infiltration of fighters along the border between Gaza and Sinai and prevent extremist jihad groups from using the Gaza Strip as a base for preparing attacks against Egyptian military forces in the Sinai Peninsula. The announcement published by Hamas stressed that it was scrupulously observing “non-intervention in the internal affairs” of Egypt, a hint at a commitment to refrain from taking sides in the struggle between the el-Sisi regime and the Muslim Brotherhood –mother organization of Hamas. The talks between the sides also dealt with a list of wanted people which Egypt gave to Hamas; the arrangement of an agreed-upon mechanism for opening the Rafah border crossing; expansion of trade relations between Egypt and the Gaza Strip; the ceasing of media attacks; and Egyptian mediation between Hamas and Israel and between Hamas and Fatah.
By David Schenker:
RECOMMENDATIONS ON SECURITY
Encourage More Jordanian-Israeli Cooperation: One good news story of 2016 was the signing of a $10-billion, 15-year deal for Israel to provide Jordan with natural gas. Less publicized, but more important, has been the excellent ongoing strategic cooperation between Jordan and Israel. King Abdullah and the government of Israel are committed to military cooperation and intelligence sharing, which greatly benefit both states and Washington. Given the strong bilateral coordination, Washington’s assistance may not be required. Nevertheless, the Trump administration could direct the Defense Department to explore ways of enhancing the already deep relationship, including — but not limited to — permitting and encouraging more transfers of Israeli excess defense articles (EDA) to Jordan….
NORPAC urges you to reach out to DNC Electors (see list on bottom) to NOT elect Rep. Keith Ellison for DNC Chairman:
As the Democratic National Committee (DNC) looks to choose a new leader for their platform at the end of this week, it is imperative that the Democratic Party elects a Chair who will continue the Party Tradition to maintain a strong US-Israel relationship.
Previously we have voiced our concern about the DNC Chair candidacy of Congressman Keith Ellison. Ellison has proven himself to have a different agenda than the rest of his party when it comes to supporting Israel. From his controversial connection to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, his support of the biased and anti-Israel Goldstone Report, his support of the “Gaza 54” letter, his efforts to unseat a fellow incumbent Democrat who was supportive of Israel, and other incidents, we believe Rep. Ellison is the wrong choice to lead the Democratic Party.
We ask you to please reach out to DNC electors about this nomination, and to urge their support of a candidate who embodies the essence of the Democratic Party, which has historically stood firmly by our ally Israel. Below you can find the contact details of the electors and their respective states.
Dear [Title & Last Name],
I want to thank you for your leadership as a voting member for the DNC Chairperson. As an American who supports a strong US-Israel relationship and a long-term supporter of the Democratic Party, I believe we need leadership from someone who will continue our Party’s proud legacy of support.
Congressman Ellison has perhaps the worst voting record on US-Israel relations in Congress. Just this year, he discussed adding language to the Democratic platform that would polarize America’s relationship with Israel by unfairly demonizing its treatment of the Palestinians.
The Democratic Party needs a strong candidate, now more than ever, who embodies the values that the majority of the party and Americans share. Electing Rep. Keith Ellison would send the wrong message. I urge you to consider instead a candidate who will unify the party, bring in Independents, and continue our strong tradition of maintaining a robust US-Israel bond.
If you live in New York address your email to one or more of the following New York DNC members:
Mr. Stuart Applebaum, email@example.com
Hon. Byron Brown, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hon. Vivian Cook, email@example.com
Ms. Jennifer Cunningham, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Maria Cuomo Cole, email@example.com
Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Emily Giske, email@example.com
Hon. Jay Jacobs, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms. Sarah Kovner, email@example.com
Mr. Marv McMoore, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Henry Muñoz, III email@example.com
Mr. Gerard Sweeney, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Robert Zimmerman, email@example.com
If you live in New Jersey address your email to one or more of the following New Jersey DNC members:
Mr. Tonio Burgos, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mrs. Lizette Delgado Polanco, email@example.com
Mr. John Graham, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Chris James, Chris@njdems.org
Ms. Marcia Marley, email@example.com
Mrs. Bernadette McPherson Esq. firstname.lastname@example.org