It’s hard to find balanced news about Israel. That’s why we are now offering a weekly news recap at ffoz.org. In this week’s Israel News Recap without the Rhetoric learn how the Obama administration protected Hezbollah’s drug trade to make a nuclear deal with Iran, the results of the Beijing peace talks with the Palestinians, more embassy news, and the disturbing situation on Israel’s Syrian border.
Project Cassandra, Hezbollah, and Obama’s Iran Deal
An extensive and thorough Politico report released last week details how a formerly covert operation in the DEA stumbled upon Hezbollah’s massive, global drug trade only to be stonewalled by the Obama administration’s determination to pass the Iran deal—even as Hezbollah was funneling cocaine into the United States.
Hezbollah, a Lebanese-based Shi’ite militia that the U.S. classifies as a terrorist network and has clashed with Israel in the past, is closely aligned with Iran and holds power in that nation’s highest ranks. Over the past decade, the organization has expanded massively from a Middle-East militia to a global drug trafficking network. It’s through the trail of drugs that a special team from the Drug Enforcement Agency called Project Cassandra uncovered the network’s global reach in 2008. Investigators at the time believed that the organization was making around $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering, connections with South American cartels and other illegal international activities.
Over the next eight years a coalition of spies, analysts, and agents from dozens of intelligence agencies assembled a profile of Hezbollah all preparing to take action against the group that would hopefully crush their entire network.
When presented to senior White House officials, however, the project was met with a pattern of disinterest, denied resources, blocked operations, and ultimately the undoing of Project Cassandra. Now, years later, officials in the former Project Cassandra say they believe they were blocked because of the Obama administration’s determination to pass the Iran deal which could sour if the U.S. crushed Hezbollah with the other hand.
To read the dramatic, shocking investigation click here: https://www.politico.com/interactives/2017/obama-hezbollah-drug-trafficking-investigation/
China Premieres New Role in the Middle East
After a weekend conference between Israeli and Palestinian officials hosted in Beijing, China has announced that it will be seeking to become a key player in Middle East negotiations subverting a role traditionally held by the U.S.
“China has decided to increase its involvement in advancing the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians,” Foreign Minister Yi announced. “Despite the difficulties, we must progress in the direction of renewed peace talks.
The non-binding “Beijing initiative” resulted in a position paper crafted by the Israelis and Palestinians outlining the potential for a two-state solution. Previously mute on the issue, China now says that the two-state solution in the Middle East is the only option, but despite this theorized paper the Israeli delegation stressed that China’s proposal “is not an alternative to U.S. involvement.”
The goal of the conference was to formulate a non-binding position paper that would be agreeable to both sides.
The Israeli delegation is formed of officials from the Knesset who have resolved to work toward a peaceful resolution in Israel. Despite the interest in a peaceful resolution from all sides during this conference, the delegations of Israel and Palestine had many disagreements and were able to draw up the document only after Chinese pressure.
Still, the parties refused to hold a joint press conference and did not include discussion of Jerusalem.
Israeli officials ended the conference again emphasizing that they still welcomed U.S. involvement in the negotiations.
Historically, China has sought economic cooperation in Israel and recently announced several major projects in the country. Delving into the regional politics may impact the economic collaboration between Israel and China.
Guatemala Follows U.S. Lead
The ripples of the Jerusalem embassy move are still unsettling the Middle East after President Trump set in motion what may end up being one of the most politically important events in Israel this decade.
The U.S. was the first sovereign nation to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but it looks like it won’t be the last. Despite a damning 128 to 9 vote by the United Nations to condemn the U.S. decision, Israel is reportedly in talks with ten countries regarding recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, according to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Those talks already came to some fruition earlier today when Guatemala announced that it would follow the U.S. example and move their embassy to Jerusalem. The negotiations were short, according to a Facebook post by the Guatemalan president who made the decision after a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Guatemala was one of the countries to vote with the U.S. and Israel in the UN vote. The others were Honduras, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, and Togo.
While not every country in talks with Israel is likely to move their embassy, Israeli officials have said that even a symbolic recognition would be welcomed.
As negotiations proceed, the reality on the ground continues to be tumultuous as protests and riots have continued, particularly in the West Bank. Around twelve Palestinians have been killed in the clashes with Israeli security forces. Israeli airstrikes targeted Hamas sites in Gaza after rocket fire into Israel wounded scores of civilians.
Security Situation at Northern Border
As the eyes of the world follow the UN and embassy news, the Israeli Defense Forces are watching their northern neighbors.
A force of Syrian army units combined with Iranian-backed militias has advanced into the last rebel-held territory in the tense Israel-Syria-Lebanon borderlands. As these forces engage with the rebels, they are brought dangerously close to the Israeli forces who have conducted several airstrikes against Syrian military and Iranian assets throughout the civil war.
According to Reuters news, “A western intelligence source confirmed rebel reports that Iranian-backed militias including the powerful Lebanese Hezbollah Shi‘ite group were playing a major role in the ongoing battles.”
The presence of Hezbollah working with the Syrian military points to the increased role that Iran is playing in the region’s future. The globally endorsed battle against the Islamic State has also provided Iran a window into Syria and Iraq. Their presence will have a long-term impact on any future Middle East scenarios.
If the Syrian military and the Iranian Shi’ite militias can rout the Sunni rebels near the Israeli border, where they have been since 2013, Hezbollah will have another secure arms supply line from its border in southern Lebanon into Syria.