My Mideast Punchlines: love-fest on the edge…

It wasn’t akin to the US recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, but on Saturday US President Trump extended a preelection gesture to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he tweeted that he would meet the prime minister later this month and discuss an Israel-US security pact.

“I had a call today with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of moving forward with a Mutual Defense Treaty, between the United States and Israel, that would further anchor the tremendous alliance between our two countries,” Trump tweeted. “I look forward to continuing those discussions after the Israeli Elections when we meet at the United Nations later this month!”

Netanyahu responded by tweeting back to Trump: “Thank you my dear friend President @realDonaldTrump. The Jewish State has never had a greater friend in the White House.”

biffAt first sight, the proposed pact might appear to be quite comforting to embattled Israelis. Yet it’s a two-edged sword. Israel might have its hands tied by having to seek American permission when it comes to certain military actions. Another factor is whether the current Trump-Netanyahu love-fest will continue following Tuesday’s Israeli elections. A different prime minister might baulk at getting into bed with the Donald.


My Mideast Punchlines: A spy? Who, me?

It sounds like a screenplay for a movie: According to the Israel Defense Forces, the Jewish state is operating a spy in a very senior position in an Arab state — without his even knowing he is providing invaluable intelligence to Israel.

The case was reported Thursday by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, which released an excerpt of a longer piece that will be published over the weekend, after receiving approval for publication by the military censor.

According to the report, the high-level source in an unnamed Arab country, nicknamed “Torpedo,” works for what he thinks is a non-military body. He was recruited in a complex operation five years ago, and continues to unknowingly provide Israel with immensely important information to this day.

The report cited officials in Israeli Military Intelligence’s Unit 504, which employs agents beyond Israel’s borders, adding that it was at the initiative of that unit that the story was published.

biffI have a family member who served in Unit 504 in Lebanon. Suffice it to say that even Israelis are in awe of it. The highly secretive unit has a fearsome reputation displaying an uncompromising attitude towards Israel’s enemies. The Spy, the story of master agent Eli Cohen, is currently on Netflix. He reached the upper echelons of the Syrian regime in the mid-sixties. helping Israel to win the Six-day war. In this case, we can only speculate as to the Arab state in question, but Lebanon or Syria would be handy. Only the Israelis could come up with a scheme to use a spy who doesn’t know he is one.

My Mideast Punchlines: duck walk…

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that he had fired National Security Adviser John Bolton, seen as the architect of the White House’s hard-line policy toward Iran.

Bolton’s exit comes as Trump moves closer to direct talks with Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal, and likely signals a shift in the Administration’s strategy toward a softer line with Tehran.

Said Trump: “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service,” he wrote.

biffThis was bad news for Bolton, and worse for Israel. I have always admired Bolton for being the Bad Cop that every administration should have. Bolton’s adage would always be: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. A very handy attitude to have when dealing with tyrannies (if only it had happened with Hitler). Bolton, pummeled by his president, is now making the same punch-drunk walk out of the White House door as his two predecessors. More’s the pity.

My Mideast Punchlines: making a statement…

Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu discussed conflicts with Iran and the Palestinians with his British counterpart Boris Johnson on Thursday at 10 Downing Street.

Johnson started the photo opportunity by saying that he wanted to discuss the two-state solution, while Netanyahu singled out Iran as the main subject of the meeting.

biffI’d be surprised if the conversation didn’t go something like this:

Boris: what about the two-state solution, Bibi?

Bibi: Look, Boris, old chap, far be it from me to interfere between England and Scotland.

My Mideast Punchlines: who do you think you’re kidding….

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Tuesday that it had identified a facility in southern Lebanon being used by Hezbollah to convert and manufacture precision-guided missiles.

The compound located near Nabi Sheet in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon was established several years ago by Iran and Hezbollah for weapons manufacturing, the army said in a statement, which came less than two weeks after a drone attack in Beirut attributed to Israel reportedly damaged key components of the project.

In a speech televised on Saturday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that while his Iran-backed organization has some precision missiles, there was no production taking place in Lebanon.

“We do not have precision missile factories. This is a lie and a pretext that Netanyahu is adopting to carry out aggression,” Nasrallah said.

biffTo paraphrase  the lyrics of Dad’s Army, “who do you think you’re kidding, Uncle Hassan…” Fearing an Israeli air strike, it appears that Hezbollah has abandoned the base and distributed vital items from inside it to civilian locations in and around Beirut, I am reminded of a TV experiment some years back. The producers placed a bulging wallet on a pavement and drew a yellow circle around it. Fearing this was a police trap, no passer-by dared to pick it up. Well, there’s an imaginary yellow circle around the aforementioned base, and should Hezbollah dare to utilise it again, it will end up as rubble. My question is, why wait?

My Mideast Punchlines: rubble rousers…

Iran is building a new military facility in Syria that can house thousands of soldiers, Fox News reports.

Quoting Western intelligence sources, the US cable network says the base is near the Syria-Iraq border and its construction is being overseen by the Quds Force, the overseas branch of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Satellite photos of the base, known as the Imam Ali compound, shows what appear to be five recently constructed buildings that can store precision-guided missiles, according to ImageSat International.

ImageSat, an Israeli satellite imagery analysis firm, says the photos also show other structures at the facility that can be used for storing missiles.

biffIf these reports are true, then these buildings already have built-in obsolescence. Expect the IAF’s “Barney Rubble” pilots to attack sooner rather than later and send the buildings back to the Stone Age –literally. On the other hand, it might be worth waiting until the missiles are in storage. Israel has plenty of “Intel Inside” to choose the right moment.

My Mideast Punchlines: hide and peep…

Iran is obstructing a UN investigation into a site first identified by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year as a secret nuclear warehouse used to store radioactive material, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday night.

Unidentified diplomats told the newspaper Iran was refusing to provide answers to questions posed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in what was apparently the first instance of Tehran failing to cooperate with inspectors.

Iran will “take a strong step” away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers if Europe cannot offer the country new terms by a deadline at the end of this week, a government spokesman said Monday as top Iranian diplomats traveled to France and Russia for last-minute talks.

The comments from Ali Rabiei reinforced the deadline Iran had set for Friday for Europe to offer it a way to sell its crude oil on the global market. Crushing US sanctions imposed after US President Donald Trump withdrew America from the deal over a year ago have halted those sales.

biffSo Iran’s game of hide and seek may lose a vital element: the peep factor. That’s bad news for the IAEA and western democracies. Iran is counting on Trump acting like a deer caught in the headlights because of the upcoming presidential election in 2020. If they decide to, Iran could breakout to become a nuclear power within weeks. And there’s only so much Mossad can do to halt their progress.  So if you can’t verify, then terrify. Warn Iran that its nuclear programme faces obliteration. And mean it.


My Mideast Punchlines: tick-tock…

French and Iranian experts are huddling in Paris as the clock ticks on an end-of-the-week deadline for Europe to come up with a way for Iran to sell its oil despite US sanctions — or face a new scaling back of the 2015 nuclear accord.

A visit on Monday by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi and a team of economists was wrapped in discretion.

The French Foreign Ministry says only that a teams of experts, including from the economy ministry, are meeting “to reach a de-escalation of tensions.”

biffWhy is it that wherever there is a whiff of surrender or appeasement you will find the French? We can only hope and pray that Trump doesn’t become “An American in Paris” to seal a deal that will fall short of the complete dismantling of the Iranian nuclear program. Qui vivra verra. The future will tell.


My Mideast Punchlines: cat and mouse part two…

The IDF conducted a staged evacuation of “wounded” soldiers from a military vehicle struck Sunday by a Hezbollah anti-tank missile just inside Israel’s border with Lebanon.

After the armored vehicle was struck Sunday afternoon, the army dispatched a helicopter to the scene and two apparently bleeding and bandaged soldiers were filmed being evacuated.

Shortly after the IDF chopper evacuated the apparently wounded soldiers to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, they were released without receiving any medical care, the hospital said.

Israel apparently hoped that Hezbollah, thinking it had inflicted casualties, would conclude that it had retaliated sufficiently for a pair of Israeli strikes on Hezbollah and Iranian targets late last month, and hold its fire.

biffFirst mannequins, now fake casualties. Israel’s psychological warfare tactics are bearing fruit. No wonder that Hezbollah, in their desperation, sought to claim the moral high ground by saying that they deliberately sought to minimise casualties. Hassan Nasrallah is no doubt exhibiting red-faced apoplexy.

My Mideast Punchlines: cat and mouse…

During the brief exchange of fire on Sunday media that tends to be sympathetic to Hezbollah claimed that the group had refrained from firing on Israelis who were being evacuated. The decision to disclose this claim of “we could have, but didn’t,” is similar to Iran’s claim in June that it could have downed a US P-8 surveillance plane, but chose not to.

Hezbollah’s claim on Sunday was part of two assertions that it refrained from causing Israeli casualties even as it said it was “retaliating” against Israel using anti-tank missiles. In a second claim the group said it saw that one Israeli soldier was of Ethiopian origin and refrained from attacking.

biffEthiopian, for God’s sake! Not content with simply professing altruism, it appears Hezbollah has also jumped on the Black Lives Matter bandwagon. Last week they mocked Israel’s use of mannequins used as decoys in armoured vehicles parked on the border. In the event, even the boobot (dolls) were safe, which  makes you think Iran and its proxy want to avoid causing any kind of casualties to the US and Israel because they know that the retaliation will be severe. Cat and mouse games seem to be their preferred option.