A few weeks ago, several media outlets in Argentina reported about a recent meeting between an Argentine journalist and a man named “Ibrahim Yassin” in Israel.
Yassin is well-known in Israel, but almost nobody knew about him in Argentina. Originally a Shiite Muslim from Lebanon, this man told the Argentine reporter the amazing story of how he became an Israeli citizen and an Orthodox Jew, changing his name to Abraham Sinai.
The story of his transformation began during the civil war in Lebanon, in the 1970s and 80s, when he witnessed the atrocities committed by the Syrian army and also by Hezbollah combatants. When the Israeli army entered Lebanon, Yassin was able to confirm that they operated under a different set of values, especially when an Israeli army patrol, putting his own life at risk, rescued Yassin's pregnant wife and arranged for her to be taken to Haifa, where she was able to give birth safely. According to Yassin, she would have died if left in Lebanon.
Yassin’s closeness to the Israelis generated the suspicion of members of Hezbollah, who kidnapped and tortured him for months. According to Yasmin, a man named Imad Mughniyeh, tired of not getting the information he was expecting to get from him, burned Yassin’s 8-month old son alive in front of his eyes.
After a while, and convinced that Yassin was innocent, they decided to release him. According to reports, it was then that Yassin decided to infiltrate Hezbollah and spy for Israel. He did so for 10 years, and the valuable information he provided to the Israelis saved the lives of many Israeli soldiers.
In 1997, when the Israelis felt that Yassin was in serious danger, they took him and his family to Israel, where they have lived since then.
Yassin’s story is relevant in Argentina, not only because it is not very common to find stories in the local media where the Israeli army is portrayed in a positive way, but also — and most importantly — because of the connection between Yassin’s testimony and the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Center in Buenos Aires.
According to Yassin, Mughniyeh, the same man who tortured him and murdered his son, was the person that ordered the AMIA attack, as Hezbollah’s global operations chief. Yassin in fact states that he was there when the attack was ordered.
Even though this is probably not news for many Israelis, in Argentina his testimony is very important. In fact, Alberto Nisman (the federal prosecutor that conducted the AMIA case investigation for over ten years before being murdered in 2015) had accused Mughniyeh of being one of the masterminds of the bombing, and had even secured an Interpol red alert against him.
Mughniyeh, who is widely believed to have also participated in the planning of the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and a number of other terrorist attacks around the world, died in a car blast in Syria in 2008, so he will never be interrogated for his crimes. But Yassin’s testimony should serve as both a vindication of Nisman’s courageous work and a reminder of the dangers of Iran’s global terror activities.
Adriana Camisar is an attorney by training who holds a graduate degree in international law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University). She has been B'nai B'rith International Assistant Director for Latin American Affairs since late 2008, and Special Advisor on Latin American Affairs since 2013, when she relocated to Argentina, her native country. Prior to joining B'nai B'rith International, she worked as a research assistant to visiting Professor Luis Moreno Ocampo (former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court), at Harvard University; interned at the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs; worked at a children's rights organization in San Diego, CA; and worked briefly as a research assistant to the Secretary for Legal Affairs at the Organization of American States (OAS). To view some of her additional content, click here.
Public opinion states that it is very difficult to understand why indifferent and evil interests have made the heinous killing of civilians in Syria possible.
There are harsh claims from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), media and some sensitive political leaders blaming the United Nations Security Council and specifically those countries with veto power. These claims were the center of debate some weeks ago during a Security Council session, which discussed sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons, yet again, on its civilians.
There was an agreement to punish the Assad regime, but Russia vetoed that resolution. Latin American countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba have repeatedly backed Assad, and Latin America as a whole has not been clear in its stand before the Syrian tragedy.
This time, Uruguay reacted slightly differently from other Latin American countries. Permanent Representative of Uruguay Ambassador Elbio Rosselli started his speech saying “keep calm and carry on,” an English motto from World War II.
Rosselli continued to say, “We have to keep calm in order to be able to keep doing our job as Security Council, because the Syrian war must be kept in a multilateral frame and the main responsibility for it lies in this Council.”
Immediately, Rosselli criticized the Russian veto by saying: “the members of this Council should understand the damage of the use of the veto when we face such horrible situations. Veto in these times means lack of efficiency of the Council and makes our job unbalanced.”
But on the other hand, Rosselli said that unilateral use of force is considered by Uruguay as “illegitimate.” This was a clear criticism of the United States bombing of Syria after Assad’s chemical attack on his own people.
And here we have the main point: the use of the word “balance.”
The use of chemical weapons by Assad is a war crime and must be judged as such. To veto any sanction of those who engage in acts of barbarity, shows the lack of any efficiency of the Security Council and the U.N. itself.
The U.S. bombing was not as unilateral as it was mentioned in the Security Council. The U.S. previously reported that China and other countries, which also have veto power, knew that the bombing would take place.
Is it necessary to criticize just for the record or to show impartiality? Absolutely not. All members of the Security Council were fully aware that the United States had spoken with China, United Kingdom and France before attacking Syria. So, the so called “impartiality” was out of the queston.
But this political way to use “balance” is unfortunately used all the time in U.N. agencies and in the Security Council as well.
And Israel is one of those issues. What is the “balance” of devoting one full Security Council session a month speaking against Israel, and doing nothing to find a path to peace, but instead, spread rhetoric full of lies and hatred?
Well, there is no balance whatsoever. And Latin American countries instead of helping to end dubious and useless “balances” which go nowhere should be instrumental to open the eyes to African, European countries in order to help altogether to do a serious work at the U.N.
Another question without a possible serious answer: Why introduce a motion to sanction Syria when everybody in the whole world knew that Russia would veto and the genocide would continue endlessly?
History remembers and honors those who put an end to evil and barbarism. However, history also remembers indifference and silence.
For more than four decades—since the disengagement of forces following the 1973 Yom Kippur War—the Syrian border was unquestionably the quietest of Israel's frontiers. Despite its periodic saber rattling, rejectionism, pan-Arabism and support for Palestinian terrorist organizations, the Assad dynasty—Hafez and then son Bashar—strived to keep Syria out of direct military confrontation with Israel—particularly after the trouncing of the Syrian air force during the 1982 First Lebanon War. Contrasted with the recurring rocket fire, snipings, kidnappings and outright wars that remain the norm along the Israel-Lebanese border—first with Palestinian terrorist organizations and then with Iran-back Hezbollah—the Israeli Golan was the epitome of pastoral tranquility, Israel's veritable Switzerland, with the Israel Defense Forces’s (IDF's) eavesdropping devices on the winter-snowcapped Hermon Mountain keeping watchful eye as far as Damascus and its environs.
As 2016 commences, this long-enduring serenity is being threatened by Iranian intensions to take advantage of the presence of its proxy for foreign adventurism and terrorism—Hezbollah—in Syria to shore up Bashir Assad against Daesh (the Islamic State), to ignite the Israel-Syria border too.
The Iranians are striving to use Hezbollah to bring about the collapse of the two main principals that have guided Israeli policy since the beginning of the civil war in Syria: 1) That it will not allow weapons that could tip the strategic balance in the area to be shipped into its fronts with Syria or Lebanon. To this end, Israel reportedly launched 10 air attacks between January 2013 and October 2015 against convoys in Syria and even as far as Somalia carrying weapons to Hezbollah; and 2) To prevent the Syrian Golan from becoming a zone for launching offensive operations against Israel, as is the Lebanese border already. This, ostensibly, was behind the elimination of the Lebanese Druze Hezbollah terrorist Samir Kuntar, reportedly by Israeli Air Force jets that attacked a building in Damascus from Israeli airspace on Dec. 15, killing Kuntar and eight others including Farhan Essam Shaalan, a senior commander in the Syrian anti-Israel resistance militia.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has vowed to avenge Kuntar's death, putting the IDF on high alert along the Lebanese border. Kuntar already had a record of terror, having kidnapped and murdered the policeman Eliyahu Shahar and the Haran family in 1979, which earned him notoriety as one of the most ruthless terrorists in Israel’s history. Since being released from an Israeli prison in 2008 in an exchange with Hezbollah for the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Kuntar had been at the forefront of efforts to establish a Hezbollah clone in the Syrian Golan. Iran's attempt to ignite the Syria-Israel border will probably slowdown in Kuntar's absence, but experts expected that it will remain a strategic goal of the Iranian regime.
The limited scope of Israel’s offensive posture in Syria to weapons transfers and terror infrastructure directed against Israel, has led it to a hands-off policy regarding the much broader issue of the dissolution of the Syrian state and the ascendance of numerous other players, international, national and local, in the Syrian arena since the start of the civil war in March 2011.
Speaking recently to Makor Rishon, Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, the long-serving director of Policy and Political-Military at Israel's Ministry of Defense, reiterated this position in referring to the tragedy in Syria and its possible spill-over into the Golan Heights: "There is no such thing today as Syria. A human tragedy of major proportions is taking place there. Hundreds of thousands of dead, millions of refugees, fine cities with tremendous historical significance destroyed. Bashar Assad controls only a quarter of Syria and he is completely dependent on Iran and Hezbollah. At this juncture the only exit from the war is political, as was seen in the talks in Vienna. Some say that if Assad is out an arrangement could be found, but the truth is that there are not a lot of people jumping for the job of President of Syria. There are no quick resolutions, everything is complicated. Syrian is erupting lava, with partition on the horizon."
In a new paper entitled “Syria: New Map, New Actors Challenges and Opportunities for Israel” published (in Hebrew) this month by Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, Brig. Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel, former head of Strategic Planning in the IDF’s General Staff and researchers Nir Boms and Ofir Winter argue that, considering the multitude of state and non-state actors (estimated at 1,500 groups of widely varying political leanings, according to a February 2014 estimate by James R. Clapper, U.S. director of National Intelligence), now vying for territory and power in what was once Syria, it is time for Israel to abandon this no-interference policy and to actively engage ‘positive’ local and foreign elements with which it has common interests.
These players impact on the current reality in Syria and are expected to play a significant role in the stabilization and redesign of the Syrian space if the Assad regime falls or if the current entity still known as Syria breaks up into Alawite, Kurdish, Druse and Sunni enclaves. The writers argue that Israel should consider adopting a more robust policy, in coordination and partnership with positive elements in the Syrian arena that will promote both its long and short term goals.
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Identifying such extant elements, the writers contend that “This policy will be part of a broad strategy that will allow Israel to build more effective leverage on the Syrian arena, create a region of influence in southern Syria (including the Syrian Golan – A.S.) and to promote its vital tactical and strategic interests – first and foremost keeping the peace on the Golan Heights and preventing ‘negative’ forces from becoming entrenched on the Syrian side…At this juncture, Israel should engage in deep consideration about the impact of changes in Syrian and the danger that pro-Iranian or Salafist-Jihadist elements will feed into southern Syria, the only area free from their overbearing sway, and to consider the possibility of establishing an area of influence in the arena adjacent to the border in cooperation with relevant Syrian, regional and international players...Despite their relative military weakness and the limited influence in the current reality, the ‘positive’ players represent the ‘silent majority’ in the Syrian people that despises both the Assad regime and the Jihadist forces, and are interested in the end of the war, rehabilitation of the country and the creation of a new political reality that will afford the citizens of Syria stability, security and prosperity after years of displacement, destruction and pain. The significant presence of relatively moderate and pragmatic elements in southern Syria in general and near the border with Israel in particular, makes the question of cooperation with them significant and concrete due to the immediate and future impact of Israel’s actions (and its inaction) on the security situation in the Israeli Golan Heights.”
The imperative for Israel to review its policy vis-à-vis southern Syria now is reinforced by research published by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point that found that Islamic State is currently looking to build on what it has already accomplished since it restarted in southern push a year ago.
Another new element in the region is Russia's direct intervention on behalf of Assad with the deployment of fighters to the Syrian airbase in Lattakia on Sept. 30, that by now have flown hundreds of missions against Syrian rebels and ISIS. The Russian deployment ostensibly came in response to an appeal by Assad for help and to hit radical Islamist terrorists so it does not permeate and reach Russian territory.
Some believe, though, that these have provided Russia with the opportunity to once again stake a claim in the region it had left to the Americans in 1973. Ironically, the downing of the Russian jet fighter by Turkey has provided Russia with justification for introducing into the battlefield their most advanced anti-aircraft systems—the
S-300 and S-400—that Israel had successfully blocked from going to Iran for years.
Now these systems are on our doorstep. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the prescience to visit Moscow just 10 days before the Russian deployment in Syria and to conclude with Russian president Vladimir Putin parameters for the IAF’s freedom of action. Israeli Russian expert Yasha Kedmi, head of "Nativ,” Israel's outreach organ to Russian Jewry, has said that Putin's intervention in Syria is much more global than the conflict in Syria. "The conflict there is merely a demonstration of the huge military moves that Russia has made in recent years," he told Israel Defense in late November. "They reached an assessment that in the current reality, the American will accept any solution the Russians impose on Syria," Kedmi said. Former head of IDF Intelligence Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin has clarified that while the rationale of the Russian move, its strategic objective, scope and duration are not yet sufficiently clear, “it is obvious that the move places Israel in a new reality that requires reconsideration of the ways to confront the challenge and opportunities brought on by the new reality.
Yadlin says that the real threat of the Russian gambit in Syria for Israel is that Hezbollah could be strengthened should Russian arms trickle into its arsenals or be intentionally supplied to the organization. Furthermore, if Assad survives, Russia’s involvement is liable to provide a seal of approval for Iranian activity in Syria in years to come, as well as or Hezbollah forces armed with the best of Russian’s weapons on Syrian soil, Yadlin warns.
Despite this, Israel has avoided making moves that could have contributed to the efforts to topple Assad and thus undermine Iran and Hezbollah presence in Syria. He concludes that in the case of failure in moving the Western coalition into concurrent action against Assad and ISIS, “Israel should strive to realize…an Assad-free Syria as an arrangement reached in partnership with Russia. In any case, Israel must gear up for active efforts to topple Assad, based on the understanding that beyond the moral imperative, Assad’s ouster will lead to a strategic loss for Iran and Hezbollah in the bleeding Syrian state.”
As 2015 drew to a close, Israelis received a chilling reminder that although they had largely been spared ISIS-inspired violence until now, they were my no means off the Caliphate’s radar. In a new audio statement released last Saturday and attributed to the Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi, he warns that "ISIS will soon be heard in Palestine. The Jews thought that we forgot to Palestine and that they had diverted our attention from it. Not at all, Jews. We have not forgotten Palestine. Allah will not forget it. Soon soon, with Allah: Listen to the boiling emotions of jihad fighters. We will soon meet in Palestine. Israel will pay a heavy price. Palestine will not be your land or your home, but for you it will be a graveyard. Allah has gathered you in Palestine so that the Muslims may kill you. The leaders of the jihad fighters will surround you on a day you think is far, but we see it as close. We are coming closer to you day by day,” Al Baghdadi vowed.
Although this is not the first threat against Israel from the militant group, it is the most specific regarding ISIS plans to attack Israel military. Analysts believe that while its assets in the Sinai might be in easier striking range against Israel in order to put this threat into effect, it is not impossible that the Syrian Golan will be al-Baghdadi’s preferred staging area for an attack.
According to reports that appeared at the end of the year, the ISIS-affiliated Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade is operating in the border area and although it is relatively small, with 600 fighters, the group controls a significant 15-kilometer stretch of border with Israel and some 40,000 civilian residents (out of the 750,000 residents of the Syrian Golan). Like other terrorist organizations operating in the area, such as the far larger Jabhat al-Nusra, Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, conquered posts abandoned by the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force and has been using them as bases for numerous types of weapons, most of them captured from the Syrian army, including light guns, heavy machine guns mounted on trucks, anti-tank missiles and even a few tanks and Armored Personnel Carriers.
With all this in mind, 2016 will undoubtedly be a pivotal year for Israel’s relationship with all the actors in the Syrian catastrophe—from the great powers to local militias—and the government will be called upon to utilize all of its assets—intelligence and analysis alongside overt and covert hard power—in order to steer Israel through this complex matrix.
Alan Schneider is the director of B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem, which serves as the hub of B'nai B'rith International activities in Israel. The World Center is the key link between Israel and B'nai B'rith members and supporters around the world. To view some of his additional content, Click Here.
"If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” – Hillel
Over the past year, human rights advocates and policy experts alike have warned of the growing plight of refugees fleeing the humanitarian crisis triggered in the Middle East. And over the past few weeks, headlines finally began to reflect this desperate reality.
Stories on the human toll of the refugee crisis abound. Laith Majid in tears clutching his two children just off the Greek Island of Kos. Drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi on the shores of Turkey. A truckload of more than 70 refugees die of heatstroke in Austria.
The number of displaced people in the world today is the highest number since World War II at 60 million people. Currently there are four million Syrian refugees who have escaped war and dire living conditions and an additional seven million Syrian citizens currently displaced within their country’s borders. The European Union’s (EU) border agency has said more than half a million migrants have arrived at the EU's borders this year, a massive influx nearly double the number from 2014, with origins ranging throughout Africa and the Middle East.
Sienna Girgenti is the Assistant Director for the International Center for Human Rights and Public Policy at B'nai B'rith International. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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