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inFOCUS Quarterly

Spring 2015

inFocus Examines Israel

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Russia to Sell S-300s to Iran

Russian leaders announced Monday that they would lift a moratorium on delivering an advanced surface-to-air missile system to Iran. Officials in Moscow could sell S-300 missile batteries (commonly exported as the Antey-2500) to Tehran this year, even though a final nuclear deal has not been reached.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that delivering the S-300s was initiated in a "spirit of good will to stimulate progress in the negotiations" over Tehran's nuclear program. The Kremlin attempted to allay concerns over the legality of the move by saying that purely defensive technologies were not covered by sanctions currently in place. However, in 2012, the Kremlin indeed used UN sanctions as the excuse to cancel a $800 million contract with Tehran to deliver five S-300 missile batteries. Specifically, the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1929 in 2010 banned the sale of eight categories of conventional weapons to Iran, including "missiles or missile systems."

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By Michael Johnson  |  April 16, 2015 at 1:57 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

IS Seizes Yarmouk Camp in Damascus

Fighters with the Islamic State seized large parts of the predominantly Palestinian Yarmouk camp on the southern side of Damascus this past week. International aid agencies warn that conflict between IS and other rebel factions, as well as an ongoing government blockade, could lead to a humanitarian disaster inside the camp.

The Islamic State's recent advance sparked fighting with Palestinian rebels groups who also opposed President Asad, including Aknaf Bait al-Maqdis. But with 90% of the camp now under IS control, the organization has begun rounding up men that could pose a challenge to their occupation of the area. According to Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toumeh, IS beheaded Sheikh Abu Salah Taha, a senior leader of Hamas's Syrian branch. Following the killing, Hamas leaders in Gaza reacted by arresting IS supporters in the enclave.

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By Michael Johnson  |  April 8, 2015 at 5:15 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Obama Ends Freeze on Arms Sales to Egypt

The White House announced Tuesday that it is lifting a year-and-a-half long moratorium on U.S. arms sales to Egypt, citing the need to fight violent extremism in the region. The Obama administration's move signals a willingness to prioritize stability and security over human rights concerns in the region.

Approximately $1.3 billion in annual U.S. foreign defense assistance will be restored to Egypt, reestablishing Cairo's position as the second largest recipient of military aid after Israel. Washington will now release 12 Lockheed Martin F-16 aircraft, 20 Boeing Harpoon missiles, and up to 125 General Dynamics M1A1 Abrams tanks that have long been requested by the Egyptian military. Ten highly sought-after Apache ground attack helicopters were also delivered from the U.S. in late 2014 to Egypt's armed forces.

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By Michael Johnson  |  April 2, 2015 at 9:52 am  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Iraqi Forces Retake Tikrit

After nearly a month of stalled fighting, Iraqi forces regained control over much of Tikrit on Tuesday, displacing Islamic State militants who had captured the city last June. During their fight to take back the city, about 80 miles northwest of Baghdad, the Iraqi government revealed an important, yet controversial part of their strategy–Popular Mobilization Units (PMU).

Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Tikrit's liberation on state tv, hailing it as the first major victory following the Islamic State's expansion into western Iraq last summer. In the end, about 4,000 Iraqi soldiers were confronted by only a few hundred IS loyalists, meaning the terrorist group was outnumbered almost 10 to 1.

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By Michael Johnson  |  March 31, 2015 at 3:14 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Riyadh Intervenes Against Yemeni Rebels

Saudi Arabia began a series of airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias in Yemen yesterday in conjunction with other regional allies. Riyadh's ambassador to the U.S. announced "Operation Storm of Resolve" on Wednesday night in Washington, justifying the measure as a last resort in protecting Yemen's "legitimate government" against Houthi rebels.

More than 100 Saudi warplanes have participated in strikes targeting Houthi combat and control centers, weapons depots, and other military installations mostly around the capital Sanaa. By Thursday morning local time, the Saudi military had gained air superiority over the country and threatened to bomb naval ships operating off the coast. CNN cites a Saudi adviser saying that up to 150,000 soldiers could be mobilized for the operation; artillery and other military kit has begun massing on Saudi Arabia's border with Yemen. Numerous other Sunni states including the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Egypt have joined the coalition against the rebels.

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By Michael Johnson  |  March 26, 2015 at 3:48 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

IS Claims Responsibility for Tunis Attack

Islamic State claimed responsibility Thursday for an attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis that killed 20 foreigners earlier this week. Security forces killed two terrorists during the assault, which has highlighted Tunisia's growing susceptibility to Islamic State terrorists in the region.

Wednesday's attack started when gunmen fired on tourists disembarking from coach buses outside the museum, before heading inside to take hostages. Police raided the building shortly after, finding at least three Japanese, two Spanish, two French, and one British national, among others, dead at the scene. The museum was widely considered a safe area given its close proximity to the heavily guarded parliament building next door.

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By Michael Johnson  |  March 19, 2015 at 4:07 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

Renewed Palestinian Rivalry Threatens Rebuilding in Gaza

Palestinian Authority security forces arrested up to 100 Hamas members during a series of raids in the West Bank over the past two weeks. The detentions mark only the latest setback in Fatah-Hamas relations following the adoption of an unity agreement last spring.

According to Middle East Monitor, many of the Palestinians arrested include "university professors, schools teachers, doctors, imams" with some previously spending time in Israeli jails. Additionally, the PA has failed to disclose a reason for the arrests or charged any Hamas members publicly.

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By Michael Johnson  |  March 12, 2015 at 4:47 pm  |  Permalink  |  Submit a Comment

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