News Roundup for February 12, 2018

February 12, 2018

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J Street in the News

17 Jewish groups call on White House to fire adviser Stephen Miller, JTA

“Seventeen Jewish groups, including the left-leaning J Street, called on the White House to dismiss Stephen Miller as senior policy adviser. The organizations, including American Jewish World Service, Americans for Peace Now and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, issued the call in an open letter they sent Thursday to the White House chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly. The letter was spearheaded by the National Council of Jewish Women. The co-authors wrote that Miller, who favors an immigration reform he said would benefit applicants who would assimilate more easily into American society than others, has ‘extreme viewpoints and advocacy of racist policies.’”

J Street Support Israel’s Defense of Northern Border; US Must Work With Israel to Address Threats, J Street

“The clashes this weekend on Israel’s northern border are an important reminder of the very serious threats posed to Israel by the forces of Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. We are alarmed by the escalation in conflict that began when an Iranian drone violated Israeli airspace, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against aggression and encroachments….Proactive and intensive US diplomatic action is needed to help prevent further escalation region and the outbreak of full-fledged war. Secretary of State Tillerson, who is currently on an extensive trip to the Middle East, should add a stop in Israel to his itinerary. Especially in this time of escalating hostility, the Trump administration must consult closely with the Israeli government to ensure that Israel’s security concerns are being taken seriously and addressed.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel carries out ‘large-scale attack’ in Syria after Israeli jet crashes under antiaircraft fire, Washington Post

“Israel carried out extensive airstrikes inside Syria on Saturday, targeting what the Israeli military said were air defense batteries and army bases as well as Iranian positions, in a day of dramatic cross-border confrontations as the threat of a wider regional conflict looms. The Israeli military said it launched the “large scale attack” after one of its F-16 fighter jets crashed under Syrian antiaircraft fire. Eight Israeli jets had been responding to an incursion by an Iranian drone launched from Syrian territory by bombing a Syrian air base, Israel said.  Seeking to contain Iran and its proxies, Israel has regularly carried out airstrikes inside Syria, though not on this scale.”

Israel Struggles to Draw New Red Lines in Russia’s Syria Playground, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer writes, “President Vladimir Putin is the one running the show in Syria and he is the one establishing the ground rules….For now, Russia is not allowing Iran to establish large bases in Syria or to come too close to the Golan border with Israel. But this does not mean that the Iranians are leaving Syria, either. Russia needs the Shi’ite militias drafted by Iran and made up of Afghan refugees as its boots on the ground, to back Assad’s army, and therefore the Iranians are allowed to operate their drones and make the occasional incursion into Israeli airspace. As long as the Iranian forces remain useful to Russia, it won’t heed Israeli demands to keep them out. Still, it will keep a close eye to make sure the Iranians don’t go too far.”

With Gaza in Financial Crisis, Fears That ‘an Explosion’s Coming’, The New York Times

David Halbfinger reports, “Across Gaza, the densely populated enclave of two million Palestinians sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, daily life, long a struggle, is unraveling before people’s eyes. At the heart of the crisis — and its most immediate cause — is a crushing financial squeeze, the result of a tense standoff between Hamas, the militant Islamist group that rules Gaza, and Fatah, the secular party entrenched on the West Bank. Fatah controls the Palestinian Authority but was driven out of Gaza by Hamas in 2007…..Israel recently called on donor countries to fund some $1 billion in water and energy improvements in Gaza, measures that would take time. But there is more it could do to alleviate the crisis quickly, according to the Israeli advocacy group Gisha — like easing the way for cancer patients to travel for treatment, or renewing exit permits for traders, which Israel slashed to just 551 at the end of 2017 from about 3,600 two years earlier.”

As Syria and Iran Threaten Israel, America Signals Its Ally Is on Its Own, Haaretz

Dan Shapiro writes, “[T]he Secretary of State arriving at a moment of crisis demonstrates….Detailed coordination and determined vigilance by American and Israeli allies to jointly confront and deter real-time threats. And just as clearly, his absence – as he lands in capitals all around Israel – would tell the region that against Iran in Syria, Israel is on its own.”


Trump: Not sure Israel truly wants peace, settlements ‘complicate’ peacemaking, Times of Israel

US President Donald Trump said in an interview published on Sunday that he is “not necessarily sure” Israel is genuinely seeking to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. “Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace. They are not looking to make peace,” Trump said in the interview with the right-wing paper. “And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens.”

Israeli General Says Iran Seeks to Establish Forward Command Post in Syria, Haaretz

An Israeli general said on Sunday that Iran is seeking to establish a “forward command post in Syria,” and that Israel cannot allow it. Speaking a day after Israel carried out what the Israel Air Force said was the “most “the biggest and most significant attack the air force has conducted against Syrian air defenses” since the 1982 Lebanon War, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, chief of Northern Command, warned that “whoever crosses the line will get the appropriate response.”

Israel said to have conveyed a warning to Iran before latest flareup, Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly conveyed to Iran a warning via European leaders before this weekend’s flare-up, which saw Israel down an Iranian drone after it entered Israeli airspace from Syrian territory. According to European officials who spoke with Channel 10 news, Netanyahu spoke a number of times in recent weeks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May, warning them of the Islamic Republic’s aggression in the region, and particularly its manufacturing of ballistic missiles in Lebanon.

Israel to snub film fest in Paris over contentious movie, Washington Post

Israel says it will not send its envoy to the opening ceremony of an Israeli film festival in Paris over the organizers’ decision to screen a contentious, critically-acclaimed Israeli film. Samuel Maoz’s “Foxtrot” is a drama exploring Israel’s West Bank occupation and the modern Israeli psyche. It has come under fire from Israel’s Culture Minister Miri Regev, who has said the film “slanders” the military.

Two Israeli Soldiers Attacked After Accidentally Entering West Bank City of Jenin, Haaretz

Two Israeli soldiers who accidently entered the West Bank city of Jenin on Monday were attacked by Palestinian residents, the military said. A rifle belonging to one of the soldiers was stolen during the attack. The military said that the two soldiers were driving was attacked by rocks when accidently entering the city. They were extracted with the help of Palestinian security forces.

AG orders police to wait with Netanyahu investigation conclusions, Times of Israel

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday instructed police to wait before submitting their conclusions regarding two graft investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, due to a High Court petition seeking to prevent their publication. The move came amid reports that police were poised to recommend indictments against the prime minister this week.

Democrat hawk says he’s sticking by Iran deal after reclaiming top panel spot, Al-Monitor

“Defenders of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal responded with trepidation to news this week that the Democrats’ staunchest Iran hawk would be reclaiming a top congressional role. In a hallway interview, however, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., told Al-Monitor that he does not plan to use his perch as the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to try to rip up the agreement. Instead, Menendez expressed skepticism about President Donald Trump’s threats to withdraw from the agreement, even as he himself champions further sanctions against Tehran for its non-nuclear activities.”

Opinions and Analysis

Israel’s Clash With Iran and Syria: 5 Takeaways, The New York Times

David Halbfinger offers five takeaways from the recent clashes.

Israel Believes Round of Hostilities With Iran and Syria Is Over, but Another Is All but Inevitable, Haaretz

Amos Harel observes, “Israel’s security establishment believes the current round of fighting with Iran and Syria in the north – during which Israel stuck targets in Syria and an Israeli F-16 fighter jet was shot down – has all but come to an end. The widely agreed upon assessment is that the sides have achieved all they could in the current round. However, Israel also believes that in the long run, another clash with the Iranians in Syria is almost inevitable.”

Will EU propose new Mideast initiative?, Al-Monitor

Uri Savir reports, “[T]he EU plans to approach Washington with a new initiative that could generate the opening of partial negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, with the backing of the international community. The initiative, which will be developed by senior EU policy planers in Brussels with active French involvement, would include several elements. An essential element is that the Quartet forum — the United States, EU, United Nations and Russia — would serve as an umbrella for talks. Also, the negotiations would deal with the transfer of Palestinian neighborhoods in the East Jerusalem area (outside the Old City) from Israeli jurisdiction to Palestinian jurisdiction as Area B (West Bank area under Palestinian civil control, Israeli security control). The EU will also propose an international East Jerusalem neighborhood development plan.”

The End of the Zionist Dream in 62 Words, Commanders for Israel’s Security

Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Daniel Rothschild writes of a proposed new West Bank annexation law, “.  The proposed law is only 62 words long.  62 words that threaten to completely change the way we live, and bring the Zionist vision to an end….The proposed law neither defines the territory to be annexed nor delineates it on a map.  A small asterisk promises more details at a later stage, after the bill is approved in a preliminary reading.  This is how little importance is attached to the most important question regarding our survival – whether we will preserve the vision of the founding fathers of Zionism, a vision realized with the establishment of the State of Israel, or surrender in the face of proposed legislation designed to advance someone’s political fortunes in his party primaries, irrespective of the destruction it wreaks.”

A Student Mission to Halt Demolitions, Chicago Maroon

Naomi Rosen writes, “Threats to demolish Susya over the past 30 years are part of the right-wing Israeli settler movement’s long-term agenda to annex the West Bank….In order to halt these demolitions, students who support a two-state solution must be loud enough to make our representatives listen. Those who support a peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians must continue to stand with Susya and other villages under threat of demolition.”

Why Is Netanyahu Allying Himself With anti-Soros anti-Semites?, Haaretz

Simon Greer writes, “By blaming outside forces for a grassroots uproar that is focused on the fact that deporting asylum seekers is quite frankly un-Jewish, Netanyahu shows he has lost touch with the very values that undergird the Jewish democratic state….No false accusations about funding or anything else will distract American Jews and Israelis from realizing that mass deportations are never in our interest.”