News Digest — 10/21/20

Mark Esper: Peace Treaties Aim To Build ‘Security Construct’ Against Iran

Washington – US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper addressed the recent agreements to normalize relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain, saying that they could help deter Iran.

“It is a great success by the president and his team in the White House,” Esper said on Tuesday (20th) in remarks at the Atlantic Council in Washington, adding that “we’ll see if more countries follow as well.  We’re all hopeful and everybody is trying to roll in that same direction.”

Esper said that the normalization agreements are essential for multiple reasons.  “It’s the diplomatic opportunities it presents, it’s the security and it’s the economy.”  He noted that Arab countries “see that there is great potential for economic growth if there is normalization.”

Another factor, he said, is that “so many of the countries in the region recognize that the biggest concern they have – [and that] we have – is Iran and its maligned behavior through that region for four decades.  It spans all the way from Africa across the Middle East into Afghanistan.”

“So we see the common thread of Iran – and how do we stand together against that?” he asked.  “The vision would be to have some type of security construct where countries on the peninsula, Israel, and others are working together to deter conflict with Iran.  We orchestrate much of that now through CENTCOM, if you will, but all those countries have an interest and certainly have concerns: freedom of navigation through the Persian Gulf, freedom of commerce, threats to the sovereignty of countries.”

Esper, who spoke about building and strengthening a network of alliances and partnerships to deter conflict, mentioned the Iranian attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure last year and the Islamic Republic’s involvement in Iraq.  “Iran is all over the region,” he said.  “So I think that countries are recognizing that reality.  And they see the other possible benefits as well of normalization.”

In his opening remarks, Esper said that as the US continues to build strategic relationships with nations, it is also deepening cooperation with its most loyal partners.  “Shortly after the signing of the historic US-facilitated Abraham Accords, I hosted my Israeli counterpart at the Pentagon to reaffirm the United States commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME), and I hope to visit Tel Aviv in the coming weeks to follow up on our discussions,” he said.  “We continue to work closely to develop advanced capabilities, particularly in missile defense.”



Syrian Report: IDF Attacked Hezbollah Post Near Quneitra

Syrian media reported on Tuesday night (20th) that the IDF attacked two Syrian army positions and a vehicle near Quneitra.

According to the reports, the targets were used by the Syrian army and by Hezbollah to gather intelligence on the IDF.   The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that pro-Iranian bases were hit and that several are dead.

Israel has not responded to the reports.

Last month, Syrian media reported that the country’s air defense systems were activated over the city of Aleppo following an airstrike attributed to Israel.

A week earlier, Syrian media reported that the country’s air defense systems were activated following an attack over the city of Homs. 

Two days before that, the Syrian news agency reported that the country’s air defense systems had been activated against hostile targets on the outskirts of Damascus.  That attack, also attributed to Israel, reportedly killed 11 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.



Iron Dome Shoots Down Rocket From Gaza Hours After Terror Tunnel Discovered

The Israeli military announced Tuesday (20th) that terrorists in the Gaza Strip dug a tunnel dozens of meters deep that crossed the security fence around the territory before it was detected by underground sensors.

Hours after the announcement, a rocket fired from Gaza was intercepted by Israeli missile defenses, the military said.  In retaliation, Israel struck back, hitting a subterranean site, linked to Hamas’ rulers, the IDF reported.  There was no mention of casualties or damage.  

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the tunnel crossed into Israeli territory but posed “no threat” to nearby Israeli communities and that there was not yet an exit on the other side.  He said troops are “neutralizing” the tunnel.

Israel has discovered about 20 such tunnels since the 2014 war with the Islamic terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza.  Palestinian terrorists launched deadly attacks through such tunnels during the war.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

The tunnels, as well as Hamas’ increasingly sophisticated rocket capabilities, have necessitated an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza since the terror group seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007.

Conricus said the tunnel was detected by sensors mounted on an underground barrier being built along the 35-mile frontier.  The barrier is expected to be completed by March.  Tuesday’s (20th) tunnel discovery was the first  uncovered in more than a year.

Conricus said it was not clear whether the tunnel was built by Hamas or another group, but that it required a significant financial investment.  Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.



Arab Media Slams ‘Palestinian Corruption,’ Erekat For Corona Treatment In Israel

Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem announced Monday (19th) a further deterioration in the condition of Saeb Erekat, a senior PLO and Palestinian Authority official, who was hospitalized in the Israeli medical facility on Sunday (18th) following a deterioration in his health caused by his Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

Alongside Palestinian silence, journalists in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are setting scores with the Palestinian Authority leadership, after the latter attacked the Gulf States in recent weeks following their normalization of relations with Israel, which they branded a “betrayal.”

UAE writers emphasized the “Palestinian hypocrisy and double standards” in receiving treatment in an Israeli hospital despite severing ties with the country.

Amjad Taha, an Arab researcher close to Saudi Arabia who lives in Britain and who recently suffered severe insults from the Palestinian Authority, tweeted that “the corruption in the Palestinian Authority that led to damage their health system is what forced the Palestinians to hospitalize Erekat in an Israeli hospital.”

Other journalists called on the PA to condemn Erekat’s hospitalization in an Israeli hospital as it is considered a normalization of relations.

One of the Gulf journalists called on Sheikh Akrama Tsabari, head of the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem, to condemn Erekat as he condemned the Emirates which visited Jerusalem last weekend.

Others stated that “Erekat is not the only one in severe condition but the entire Palestinian problem is in intensive care.” 

It should be noted that Erekat’s hospitalization is not the first evidence of the PA leadership’s coordination with Israel to satisfy their personal needs. Recently, Jabril Rajoub went on a number of political trips in Turkey, Qatar, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan with a Fatah delegation.  Crossing through the Allenby Bridge into Jordan involves coordination with Israel.

“Has Saeb Erekat’s health become more important than the Palestinian issue?” asked an activist from the Emirates.

“It seems that Erekat does not trust the Palestinian doctors – his own people, nor the hospitals in the PA,” another tweeted.

There is a great embarrassment in the PA following Erekat’s hospitalization because it is a step that requires civilian and security coordination with Israel and exposes the discrimination of senior PA officials over its residents, who are banned from seeking medical treatment in Israel.



UAE Submits Official Request To Open Embassy In Tel Aviv

The United Arab Emirates officially requested to open an embassy in Tel Aviv, during its first-ever government delegation’s visit to Israel on Tuesday (20th).  

Members of the delegation gave Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi a letter from his UAE counterpart Abdullah Bin Al-Zayed.

The Emirati Foreign Minister said “I appreciate the efforts you are making to promote cooperation between our countries and I have full faith in your unreserved support for opening diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi as quickly as possible.”

“Best wishes to both countries and both friendly nations for advancement and prosperity in the future,” Bin Zayed wrote in Arabic.

Earlier, the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced the establishment of a joint regional development fund based in Jerusalem.

The Abraham Fund – derived from the Abraham Accords, as the peace between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain is known – will be launched with an office in Jerusalem and a $3 billion trilateral investment to promote economic cooperation and prosperity in the Middle East and North Africa.

US International Development Finance Corporation CEO, Adam Boehler announced the fund on the tarmac at Ben Gurion Airport, where a ceremony was held in honor of the first Emirati government delegation to Israel, led by UAE Financial Affairs Minister Obaid Humaid Al Tayer.

Among the agreements Israel and the UAE signed on Tuesday (20th) was one allowing for travel between the countries without a visa, the first agreement of its kind between Israel and an Arab state.

The other agreements signed were on protecting investments, science and technological cooperation, and regular flights between the countries.