News Digest — 11/26/19

Rocket Launched From Gaza, Lands In Open Field

The IDF issued a statement on Monday (25th) that it had identified a rocket launch from the Gaza Strip toward Israel.  There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

Earlier this month Israel carried out a targeted assassination of a senior Islamic Jihad commander in the Gaza Strip, and the terror group launched hundreds of rockets at Israel over two days in response.  Israeli retaliatory airstrikes left at least 34 Palestinians dead, the majority of whom were members of Islamic Jihad.

Egypt and the United Nations brokered an unofficial truce.  Similar understandings have led to months of calm between Israel and terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza.

While Hamas ostensibly governs the Gaza Strip, having wrested control of the coastal enclave from its rivals in Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party in a bloody coup in 2007, other terror groups operate within the territory.

Bankrolled and trained by Iranian benefactors, Islamic Jihad has emerged in recent years as Hamas’ primary rival, openly criticizing Hamas leadership for not being extreme or Islamic enough.

ISIS and Fatah-linked splinter cells also exist in Gaza, with the various factions clashing periodically.

Following Israeli strikes on terror targets earlier this month, Islamic Jihad members confronted Hamas officials at the mourning tent of a slain terrorist, furious over Hamas’ refusal to launch rockets at Israeli civilians during the 450-plus projectile onslaught on Israel’s south. 



Palestinians Gear Up For ‘Day Of Rage’ Tuesday Against US Settlement Policy

Palestinians are planning to hold demonstrations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Tuesday (26th) to protest US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration that the Trump administration does not view settlements as illegal, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official said on Monday (25th).

Pompeo told reporters at the State Department last week that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” breaking with decades of US policy.

“We declare a day of rage to reject this statement by the American Secretary of State,” PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yousef said in a phone call.  “We totally condemn this American effort to legitimize the settlements.”

Like the Palestinians, most of the international community considers settlements to be illegal.  That stance is based in part on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population to occupied territory.

Israel however maintains that the West Bank is not occupied territory but rather disputed land that was captured from Jordan in a defensive war in 1967.

The PLO official, who is based in Ramallah, said that the protests will also denounce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge last September to apply Israeli sovereignty over the vast majority of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, if he is given another term in office.



Israeli Settlements Are A Political, Not A Legal Issue – Douglas J. Feith

In his statement about the legality of Israel’s West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made four main points.

→ First, the settlements are not “inherently illegal.”

→ Second, the West Bank’s fate should be determined through negotiations.

→ Third, international law “does not compel a particular outcome” in favor of Israel or the Palestinians.

→ Fourth, the issue is political in nature, not legal, and attacking the settlements’ legality “hasn’t advanced the cause of peace.”

For 35 years U.S. administrations refrained from repeating President Carter’s criticism of Israeli settlements as illegal, Pompeo recounted, but President Obama broke with this policy by taking the Carter position at the UN.  President Reagan, who followed Carter, had rejected Carter’s view.

President Carter had a strained relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and condemnation of Israeli settlements as illegal was supported by a five-page letter dated April 21, 1978, by State Department legal adviser Herbert Hansell.

That letter ignored entirely the rights of Jews under the 1922 Palestine Mandate, which called for “close settlement by Jews on the land.”  From ancient times until 1949, Jews could lawfully live in the West Bank. Hansell didn’t explain when that right was terminated.

As a Middle East specialist on the National Security Council staff, I was asked for a short note on the subject for President Reagan.  I said, “The issue is properly a political question, not a legal question.” The sovereignty issue “is open and will not be closed until the actual parties to the conflict formally consent to a peace agreement.”  In the meantime, “there is no law that bars Jews from settling on the West Bank” and no one should be excluded from living there “simply on account of his nationality or religion.”

What fuels the conflict is the notion that Israel is a vulnerable, alien presence that lacks roots, legitimacy, and moral confidence.  Israel’s enemies know that asserting that the Jews have no right to live in the West Bank – an important part of the Jewish homeland – calls into question the Jews’ right to have created Israel in the first place.

The writer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, served as US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy



Ignoring US, Turkey Poised To Test Russian S-400 Air Defense Systems

Turkish media says Ankara is poised to begin testing Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, despite threats of sanctions from the United States. 

The Milliyet newspaper which has close links to the government, said Monday (25th) that the military is planning to test the S-400s that are currently deployed at an airbase on the outskirts of Ankara.

Turkey took delivery of two Russian S-400 batteries this year, dismissing warnings from the United States that they pose a threat to NATO security.  As a result, Washington suspended Turkish participation in the multinational F-35 fighter jet program. Washington has repeatedly said that the Russian system is incompatible with NATO systems and is a threat to the F-35.

The US strongly urged NATO member Turkey to pull back from the deal – reportedly costing more than $2 billion – warning Ankara that it could face economic sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act if it went ahead with the purchase.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in September that the Trump administration was considering the imposition of sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of the S-400 system.

“As recently as last Thursday (21st), a senior State Department official told reporters Turkey needed to ‘get rid of’ the system,” reports the pan-Arab Asharq Al-Awsat news outlet.  “Those comments came after President Tayyip Erdogan met US President Donald Trump at the White House,” it added.

“Trump told Erdogan that Washington is ready to sell Ankara US Patriot systems if it drops the Russian system,” says Asharq Al-Awsat.



Led By High Tech, Israeli Exports To Hit Record Of $114B In 2019

Israel’s exports, a key economic growth driver are expected to grow to a record $114 billion in 2019 from $109 billion last year, government data showed on Sunday (24th).

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics and Economy Ministry, Israeli goods and services exports stood at $84 billion over the first nine months of the year, up 4.6% from January-September 2018.

The Economy Ministry said the increase this year stems mostly from a nearly 12% rise in services exports, with growth led by the high tech sector such as software, computing, and research and development services.

Exports comprise around 30% of Israel’s economic activity.

Overall, exports to the European Union – Israel’s largest trading partner – rose 4.8% this year, led by the UK, Spain, Poland, and Belgium.  Exports to the United States – the largest export market by country – rose 2% while exports to India grew 9%. Exports to Asian markets including China and Japan fell this year.

The gains in services has more than offset a drop in goods exports, which have been hurt this year by slowing global trade, a weak diamond market, and a strong shekel currency.