MidEast

Week in Review: Iran’s Road to Damascus; Hamas Puts Terror First, Gazans a Distant Second

Iran’s Road to Damascus

It was reported earlier this week that Iran is on its way to securing a land bridge to the Mediterranean. Iran-backed forces in Iraq approached the border with Syria at the end of last month. Last Friday, Iran-backed forces and forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad reached the Syrian border with Iraq. All that stands between these two groups of Iranian proxies is ISIS-held territory.

Iran has long sought to build a land route to the Mediterranean. Last October, The Guardian described the battle for Aleppo as a key element in achieving that goal.

The completion of Iran’s route to the Mediterranean “signifies the consolidation of Iran’s control over Iraq and the Levant, which in turn confirms their hegemonic regional ambitions,” Ali Khedery, who advised American ambassadors to Iraq from 2003-2011, told the Guardian at the time. “That should trouble every western leader and our regional allies because this will further embolden Iran to continue expanding, likely into the Gulf countries next, a goal they have explicitly and repeatedly articulated. Why should we expect them to stop if they’ve been at the casino, doubling their money over and over again, for a decade?”

Hanin Ghadar similarly observed last year in The Tower Magazine that “from the very beginning, Iran’s goal has been the establishment of a Shi’ite Arab territory that physically links Iran to southern Lebanon via Iraq and Syria. This required Iranian control—mostly by proxy—over three capitals: Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut.”

One of the aims of establishing this corridor is “to project more power against Israel, whether by supporting Hezbollah in the Golan or increasing its assistance to Palestinian groups like Hamas.”

Ghadar observed that Iran has been building its land bridge by forcibly removing Sunnis from certain territories and repopulating them with Iraqi Shiites. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recently described this process in a New York Times op-ed as “a de-escalation mechanism.”  What it really is, Ghadar noted, is ethnic cleansing. It also likely violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars “the mass transfer of people into and out of occupied territories for purposes of extermination, slave labor or colonization.”

The increase in Iranian aggression across the Middle East is one of the predicted consequences of the nuclear deal with Iran.

Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz argued two years ago that a deal that lifted nuclear sanctions on Iran but didn’t address its destabilizing behavior would risk “empowering Iran’s hegemonic efforts.” Former State Department official Aaron David Miller similarly wrote at the time that such a deal would avert a crisis for now, “but unless it really does change Iran’s behavior, we’ve only bought ourselves a bigger one down the road.” Three fellows at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy similarly warned that a nuclear deal would not lead Iran to abandon its “imperial ambition” in the Middle East.

Hamas Puts Terror First, Gazans a Distant Second

Once again, Hamas has put the lives of ordinary Gazans second to its designs to terrorize Israel.

“Hamas remains the same cynical organization that exploits the distress of Gaza’s residents for political gain,” long-time Palestinian affairs correspondent Avi Issacharoff commented earlier this week, shortly after Hamas shut down Gaza’s only power plant, leaving the Strip with only four hours of electricity a day.

The Islamist group raises some $28 million in taxes every month, meaning that it could afford to buy fuel for the plant but chooses not to. While some of the taxes are used to pay salaries for Hamas members, most go towards developing the group’s military infrastructure, including tunnels and rockets, which cost an estimated $130 million a year.

“Those who took control of Gaza in a military coup and since then invested more than $1 billion in their military infrastructure, could have easily directed their resources to resolve Gaza’s problems,” Issacharoff wrote. “But what is the value of another few hours of electricity for the people of Gaza, compared to another few tunnels or rockets?”

Issacharoff isn’t the first observer to notice that Hamas often prioritizes development of its military capabilities over the well-being of ordinary Gazans. In February 2016, after noting that Hamas was investing heavily in attack tunnels while taking its time to rebuild civilian infrastructure in Gaza, veteran Palestinian affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh noted, “the last thing Hamas cares about is the welfare of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas was ranked as the second wealthiest terrorist group by Forbes in 2014 and many of its leaders have amassed large fortunes. Khaled Meshaal, who until recently was based in Qatar, was estimated to be worth $2.6 billion in 2014. The family of Ismail Haniyeh, who was recently appointed to lead the terror organization, was reported to have million dollar homes in Gaza.

Heart Healthy Israel

Israeli researchers have made two reported breakthroughs that could be used to treat people suffering from heart disease.

Scientists at Ben Gurion University identified a bio-medical polymer, which reduces the plaque buildup that restricts blood flow in arteries when injected into mice.

Age, bad diet choices, and smoking are some of the risk factors associated with plaque buildup in arteries. A therapy that reverses the buildup could keep at-risk patients healthy for longer.

While the Ben Gurion research aims to prevent heart attacks, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have found a possible way to reverse the damage caused by one that already took place.

A heart attack occurs when an artery carrying oxygenated blood to the heart is blocked. Without the oxygenated blood, the heart tissue begins to die, making it more and more difficult to pump blood to the other organs and keep them functioning. The Weizmann researchers isolated a protein, Agrin, that could regenerate heart tissue. Tests on mice have shown that an injection of Agrin could repair damaged heart tissue.

While neither therapy is ready to hit the market yet, both breakthroughs could potentially lead to reducing deaths attributed to heart disease in the future.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified heart disease as the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, accounting for one in four deaths annually, claiming an estimated 610,000 people every year.

Feature: Israeli Identity and the Future of American Jewry

American Jewry is facing an existential crisis, Tower editor David Hazony observed in the latest issue of The Tower Magazine. “In 1948, more than 3.5 percent of the American population were Jews. Today the number is around 1.7 percent. It has been dropping consistently across the decades. The portion of children in America being raised as Jews today is about 1.2 percent,” he wrote. “A generation from now, this community will be much smaller than it is now.”

Unless American Jews become Orthodox or make aliyah, how can they ensure that their Jewishness extends to the next generation?

Hazony suggested a possible answer lies in what he called “Israeliness.” Noting that, unlike decades ago, Israeli culture is gaining attention internationally, he wrote that Israeliness “is grounded in a belief in a proud, assertive, sovereign agency, in collective Jewish action in history that is not restricted only to matters of moral messages to the world, to a universal teaching, but also in a biblical, particularistic sense that only by taking responsibility for the entire envelope of human life—including high politics and sports and the economy and farming and cleaning one’s streets—and doing so in an unabashed way, does the Jew fulfill his historic role.”

Hazony suggested three ways of “making Israeliness a central element in the identity of American Jews.”

The first is translating Hebrew-language products — whether in the fields of entertainment or academia— into English. The second element is language, namely teaching Hebrew to American Jews so that they get a better sense of Israel without having to depend on a translation. Finally, he recommended encouraging young Jews to travel and experience Israel first-hand, as some already do on programs such as Birthright or Young Judea’s Year Course.

This Week’s Top Posts

• Israeli Scientists Discover Key to Repairing Damaged Heart Tissue

• Red Crescent: Hamas Engaged in War Crimes, Fired Rockets From Hospital to Provoke Israel

• Israel Grants Palestinian Request to Reduce Gaza Electricity Supply

Three Big Questions

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last year that Iran will support him until the “end of the road.” Did he mean that metaphorically or was it a reference to the Baghdad-Damascus highway, which is key to establishing a land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean?

During the Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when Israel fought Hamas, Israel frequently complained that the terror group was hiding weapons under UNRWA schools. This week, UNRWA announced that Hamas had built a terror tunnel under two of its schools. What took UNRWA so long to discover the tunnel?

Given UNRWA’s record in terms of enabling Hamas, isn’t the Israeli government correct in calling for the dismantlement of UNRWA, which often contributes to conflict rather than peace?

[Photo: Tasnim News]