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Context is key: It was a riot, not a protest

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Context is key It was a riot not a protest

“Nonviolent” protestors do not carry knives, wire-cutters and improvised firebombs.

 Over the past several weeks, much discussion has been made about the events last spring on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Many have equivocated the actions of violent rioters inspired by Hamas (a terrorist organization) and those of Israel’s soldiers charged with defending the sovereignty of a liberal democracy. This abhorrent argument demonstrates a false moral equivalence and, above all, misses the context of the events.

Last spring, Hamas-inspired rioters gathered on the Gazan side of the border fence with Israel in what was billed as the “Great March of Return.” With such a provocative name, the question bears asking: a return to where?

The answer that much of the media believed is “to their ancestral homelands.” This is a politically correct euphemism for saying: to destroy Israel.

Palestinian rioters burn tires as part of a violent demonstration on the Gaza-Israel border that turned deadly on Oct. 12, 2018, when a Gaza exploded a bomb and infiltrated the security fence in the attempt to attack Israeli soldiers. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Palestinian rioters burn tires as part of a violent demonstration on the Gaza-Israel border that turned deadly on Oct. 12, 2018, when a Gaza exploded a bomb and infiltrated the security fence in the attempt to attack Israeli soldiers. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar was more explicit: to “tear down their [Israel’s] border and tear out [Israelis’] hearts.” In carrying out this directive, a group of rioters that briefly managed to infiltrate into Israel were brandishing butcher knives and shouting “Jews, we’re coming to slaughter you!”

And therein lies the blunt truth of Hamas: It is driven by a hatred of the Jewish people and seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. In short, it is one of the most anti-Semitic organizations in the world.

This statement is not hyperbole or intended for fear-mongering. It is a recognition of fact, both in word and deed.

In word, Hamas’s charter infamously calls for the destruction of Israel, and its leaders have regularly stated that they “love death as the Jews love life.”

In action, Hamas has turned the Gaza Strip into a launching pad from which to realize its genocidal ambitions. When Israel unilaterally pulled every soldier and civilian out of the Strip in the 2005 disengagement, the Palestinians had the opportunity to govern themselves and prove to Israel and the world that they could exist alongside the Jewish state in peace.

Yet Hamas seized power and increased its rocket attacks against Israel. In response, Israel, as well as Egypt, imposed a naval blockade to prevent the terror organization from acquiring weapons from foreign supporters such as Iran, its primary sponsor. Israel also constructed a fence along the border to protect its civilian communities in the south; Egypt would soon do the same to prevent infiltration from the Sinai Peninsula.

In the more than 10 years it has ruled the Gaza Strip, Hamas has done nothing to improve the lives of the Palestinians under its control. Instead, it has stolen international aid to fund its terrorist agenda, kidnapped Israeli soldiers and civilians, launched thousands of rockets and dug attack tunnels into neighboring Israeli communities, all while using the people of Gaza as human shields.

Which brings us to the riots.

Many try to claim that these were “nonviolent” protests, which is objectively false. Others try to paint the image that these events were another demonstration of Palestinian nationalism—akin to something like a state fair in America—to suggest an innocent, care-free excursion, which is grossly misleading. “Nonviolent” protestors do not carry knives, wire-cutters and improvised firebombs. Hamas co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar even said this characterization was intentionally deceptive as the riots were “not a peaceful resistance.”

Is there any clearer indication of intent? When a Hamas official publicly stated that more than 80 percent of the rioters killed in a two-day period were terrorist operatives, it became inexcusable to believe that these riots were peaceful demonstrations. The world could no longer ignore what Israel had known all along: These riots were simply a different tactic of the next battle in Hamas’s ongoing war against Israel and the Jewish people.

When faced with a similar situation—in which tens of thousands of rioters inspired by a terrorist organization rush its border, wielding weapons and proudly proclaiming their intent to kill its civilians—what nation would not take all necessary measures to defend its sovereignty and protect its people?

Maybe those who believe that these were simply protesters would have preferred hundreds of rioters had broken through the fence and massacred innocent Israelis before the Israel Defense Forces took action. If Israel has to choose between saving the lives of Israelis or appeasing morally bankrupt audiences, we will always choose life.

Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

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Culture and Religion

Rep. Ilhan Omar’s excuses attacking Israel by saying she attacks Saudi Arabia, too

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Rep Ilhan Omars excuses attacking Israel by saying she attacks Saudi Arabia too

New Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been outspoken against the Israeli government for years. Some of her public condemnations including calling Israel evil and claiming they’ve “hypnotized the world.” But Israel is an ally to the United States and her role in the House of Representatives will put her position to affect change on our relationship.

Her excuse for attacking Israel is that she also attacks Saudi Arabia.

“I say the same things if not worse when it comes to the Saudi government,” she said. “I’ve called for boycotts of hajj, and boycotts of Saudi Arabia, because to me it is important when you see oppression taking place – when you see regression – when you see our values being attacked as humans, you must stand up, and it doesn’t matter who the inhabiters of that particular region might be.”

My Take

It wasn’t just Omar that is concerning. The narrative being formed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour was equally discouraging. How she framed the relationship between AIPAC and the U.S. government was thinly veiled spite towards the Jewish group.

“There’s generally sort of a rite of passage for politicians in the United States, and that is to sort of profess sort of fealty or at least pay homage to AIPAC, the pro-Israel PAC that is very, very prominent,” she said.

I won’t even try to deconstruct that silly statement.

As our EIC pointed out, Omar’s perspectives are a real concern on the foreign relations front:

There is no room for bigotry of any kind in the House of Representatives. We need to watch closely as she toes the line between calling out the nation of Israel for what she perceives as offenses and actual antisemitism, which often follows.


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Iran and the Taliban: A tactical alliance?

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Iran and the Taliban A tactical alliance

However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.

Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. In 1998, the two sides nearly came to a direct clash when Taliban forces killed Iranian diplomats, though the incident ended without a major conflict. However, the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the fear of a resurgent ISIS in Afghanistan, and water issues have prompted Tehran to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. This tactical alliance will enable Iran to further expand its influence in Afghanistan.

Iran has had covert contacts with the Taliban, the most dangerous terror group in Afghanistan, for many years. But recently, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), went public with the relationship, claiming that contacts had been made with the aim of “curbing the security problems in Afghanistan.”

The announcement came as a surprise not because the public was unaware of Iran’s secret relations with the Taliban, but because Tehran has always tried to keep its ties to terror groups an “open secret” in an attempt to maintain plausible deniability. Why did Tehran decide to go public about the Taliban connection now?

A review of the relationship’s history may help to explain the mullahs’ thinking. Relations between Iran and the Taliban have long had their ups and downs. During the period of Taliban rule, Iran saw the group as a threat to its interests. The two sides almost came to a direct clash in September 1998, when Taliban forces kidnapped and killed nine Iranian diplomats and one journalist in the Iranian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) vowed revenge and prepared to launch an all-out attack. But the crisis ended without a major clash, perhaps due to the fear that Islamabad would retaliate in support of the Taliban or that Afghanistan might become a quagmire for Iranian forces similar to that experienced by the Soviet Union in 1979-89.

The 2001 US-led military operation that led to the collapse of Taliban rule prompted the Iranian leadership to reconsider its original calculation and recalibrate its approach. It welcomed high-level Taliban figures who escaped to Iran (e.g., Abdul Qayum Zakir and Mullah Naim Barich) and began extending support to Taliban fighters.

While the two sides are on different ends of the religious spectrum, Tehran views the Taliban as a useful point of leverage against the US. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a NATO force composed of American, British, Canadian, and other troops, was created by the UN in 2002 and tasked with training the fledgling Afghan army and protecting the government of Hamid Karzai and his successor, Ashraf Ghani. The Iranian regime viewed the ISAF with concern, as it feared the US might use Afghanistan as a base from which to launch a kinetic attack on Iran. The Taliban insurgency thus became viewed by Tehran as a tool with which to keep American forces preoccupied.

To assist in the Taliban’s fighting of the ISAF, Iran allowed the Afghan terror group to open an office in Tehran and invited its leaders to attend a two-day International Islamic Unity Conference held by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought in Tehran.

Iran’s support for the Taliban did not terminate even when President Barack Obama assured the mullahs that the military option was no longer official US policy towards Iran. Intelligence reports indicate that Tehran’s military and financial support for the Taliban has in fact escalated ever since. Afghan military officials have accused the Revolutionary Guards of providing military, financial, and logistical support to the terror group, to the extent that Tehran’s support enabled the Taliban to capture districts in western Afghanistan, including the provinces of Farah and Ghor, and the Taywara district. There are also reports indicating that Quds Force operatives had a “physical presence” in Ghor assisting Taliban fighters in their offensive against the central government.

Fighting ISAF was only one of the goals of the Quds Force in Afghanistan. Drug smuggling from Afghanistan to Iran has been a profitable business for the Quds Force, which is known for its extensive ties to drug cartels in South America. In 2012, the US Department of the Treasury (DOT) designated Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Baghbani, the chief of the Quds Force in the Zahedan office, a narcotics trafficker. The DOT document noted that in return for Iranian business, Afghan traffickers moved weapons to the Taliban.

Financial incentives aside, the emergence of ISIS in Afghanistan – especially in provinces that border Iran, such as Herat, Farah, and Nimruz – rattled the Iranian regime, prompting the leadership to ramp up its engagement with the Taliban. Unlike al Qaeda and the more malleable Taliban, the radical anti-Shiite ISIS poses a real threat to Iran’s interests in Afghanistan. Providing better training for the Taliban was thus not only a way to undermine the American-led ISAF, but a barrier to a new ISIS caliphate across the Afghan border.

Various reports indicate that the IRGC created a training camp in South Khorasan province (Khorasan Jonobi) to train Taliban fighters, providing them with weapons and explosives. The Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation (Komite Emdad Imam Khomeini) in the same province is said to be donating untold amounts of capital to the terror group in addition to calling for volunteers to fight alongside Taliban forces.

Some observers have directly linked improvements in the Taliban’s performance, and ISIS’s consequent inability to establish a strong foothold in Afghanistan, to Iranian support. Since mid-2017, Taliban and ISIS forces have regularly clashed in eastern Nangarhar province, with the Taliban easily defeating ISIS thanks to the military support it has received from the Quds Force. As one commentator put it, the “scale, quality, and length of training is unprecedented and marks not only a shift in the proxy war between the United States and Iran in Afghanistan but also a potential change in Iran’s ability and will to affect the outcome of the Afghan war.”

Other commentators have noted that Iran’s backing of the Taliban’s assaults on government forces were linked to water issues. Iran has been attempting to enable the Taliban to derail energy projects that are currently under construction, namely the Poze Lich Hydropower plant in Ghor, and the Bakhshabad and Salma dams in the neighboring province of Farah and Herat, respectively. The construction of these dams, which would massively boost local energy and water supplies, is not acceptable to Iran. On July 5, 2017, President Hassan Rouhani declared that Iran “cannot remain indifferent to the issue [water dams], which will damage our environment.” According to Rouhani, “construction of several dams in Afghanistan would affect Khorasan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces,” and Tehran “is not going to stand idly by.”

It is worthy of note that the publicizing by Iran of its ties to the Taliban came days after reports appeared on talks between the US and the Taliban over proposals for a ceasefire in Afghanistan. Iran is sending a message to Washington and Kabul that if its concerns are not addressed, it can sabotage any attempt at a permanent peace in Afghanistan. Certainly, given Iran’s ties to the Taliban and the new regional arrangements (i.e., Trump’s decision to withdraw half of US forces from Afghanistan), Iran will be able to further expand its political, economic, and sectarian influence in that country.

Dr. Farhad Rezaei is a member of the  Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) in Washington, DC and the co-author of Iran, Israel, and the United States: The Politics of Counter-Proliferation Intelligence (Rowman & Littlefield, NY). @Farhadrezaeii


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New IDF chief Kochavi: The army is ready for any mission

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New IDF chief Kochavi The army is ready for any mission

• Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi becomes 22nd chief of staff in ceremony at Kirya military headquarters

• IDF “expresses what is best in the people,” he says

• PM: “You are carrying a heavy responsibility. The goal is clear – to retain superiority over our enemies.”

 The leadership of the Israel Defense Forces passed from former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot to Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi in a formal ceremony at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kochavi’s wife, Yael, pinned his new insignia on his uniform.

In his first speech as IDF chief, Kochavi said, “I am taking on this role with awe, and see it as a privilege.”

“I am making a commitment to put all my energy into a lethal, efficient, and innovative army that can meet its goals. The army expresses what is best in the people. It is ready for every mission and is all about victory. The IDF has used its long arm to eradicate threats,” Kochavi said.

Netanyahu said, “Our mission for the security of Israel must not encounter obstacles. We have worked to keep those who want to kill us from getting stronger … The stronger we are, the bigger our chances for peace.

“Muslim countries understand that we aren’t the enemy, but rather a source of support,” he said.

The prime minister wished Eizenkot success in civilian life.

Addressing Kochavi directly, Netanyahu said, “You are carrying the heavy responsibility of making sure that the IDF fulfills its missions. The goal is clear – to ensure that we retain our superiority over our enemies. We will guarantee an iron fist against our enemies, near and far.

“In the next decade, we will complete an active [defense system] that will cover the entire country. We need to add more to the defense budget to protect what we have achieved with the economy. There is no substitute for our sons’ and daughters’ determination to stand up for their country. We aren’t seeking needless wars, but in necessary ones, we will be forced to make sacrifices,” Netanyahu said.

Eisenkot also spoke at the ceremony, calling his own 40 years of IDF service a “mission.”

“I saw it as a responsibility to bring every soldier home alive. Every day, we are tested in fighting our enemies. I am leaving a trained, prepared, and powerful army that has bolstered its power through insight and determination, and which has proved that victory is a foremost value,” Eizenkot said.

“As an army of the people, we must do everything to protect the IDF’s place as a central point of national consensus,” he added.

Following the ceremony at the Kirya, the Kochavis were due to visit the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for a lunch with President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama. While in Jerusalem, there were also set to visit the Western Wall and the Mt. Herzl National Hall of Remembrance. Later Tuesday, Kochavi was scheduled to return to Tel Aviv for an honor guard for the outgoing chief of staff at the Kirya military headquarters and a toast in his new office.

Kochavi was born in Kiryat Bialik, outside Haifa. His mother was a phys ed instructor and his father owned a shop. In 1982, Kochavi volunteered for the IDF Paratroops Brigade, and he was made commander of the paratroopers in 2001, a position he held during Operation Defensive Shield in 2003.

Kochavi adopted the tactic of using sledgehammers to break the walls of homes during house-to-house raids so troops could avoid getting trapped in terrorist ambushes.

Later, Kochavi was made commander of the Gaza Division, which he oversaw during Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit on the Gaza border in 2006. An investigative committee convened to probe Schalit’s abduction found no fault with the chain of command at the time of the incident.

In 2010, Kochavi became head of Military Intelligence. Kochavi was head of Military Intelligence during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in 2014, after which he came under harsh criticism over the state of the IDF’s intelligence before the operation was launched. Kochavi was also accused of having failed to detect and address the terror tunnels dug by Hamas beneath the Gaza border.

In November 2014, Kochavi was made GOC Northern Command. One of the important initiatives he introduced was the IDF’s “good neighbor” policy, in which Israel provided humanitarian aid and emergency medical care to Syrians near the border. During his tenure at the Northern Command, the IDF also began tracking tunnels that Hezbollah was digging underneath the Israel-Lebanon border.

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