No aid for peace. A senior Hamas official on Friday rejected Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s offer of “massive” assistance to the people of Gaza predicated on the condition that Hamas give up its rockets and attack tunnels, and release three Israeli men the organization is believed to be holding hostage.
Hamas spokesperson Mahmoud al-Zahar flatly refused the offer and said if Gaza wanted to be like Singapore (read: a thriving, economically stable nation), it would have done so already.
“The moment Hamas gives up on tunnels and rockets, we will be the first ones to invest and build [Gaza’s residents] a seaport, an airport, and industrial zones by the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings,” Liberman said. “We are able to immediately create about 40,000 jobs for the residents of Gaza.”
The northern front. In an op-ed appearing in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C. think tank, urged the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which were acquired in a defensive war against Syria in 1967. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked President Donald Trump and his administration to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in a meeting on Wednesday and at a breakfast with Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday.
Israel expressed willingness to cede the Golan in negotiations with Syria over decades; however, as the authors of the piece noted, “Had Israel ceded the Golan to Syria, Islamic State, al Qaeda or Iran would be sitting on the shores of the Galilee across from the Israeli city of Tiberias” due to the effects of the civil war in Syria. For the Trump administration, which has expressed a desire to split Iran off from its ally Russia, such a move “would show that the U.S. will take a tougher line in the provision of arms and intelligence to Iran and Hezbollah.”
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed terrorist organization, have attempted in recent years to establish a terrorist infrastructure on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Israel is deeply concerned about such a development, particularly in the aftermath of military victories by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad. Prof. Asher Susser, a senior fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, told BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus, “The changes in Syria [due to the civil war] have brought Iran closer to Israel’s borders than ever before.”
Presents from Tehran. Iran has sent “game-changing” weapons to its proxy group Hezbollah, which has been actively building tunnels and fortifications along Lebanon’s border with Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported Wednesday, citing Lebanese media.
Ibrahim al-Amin, chairman of the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar, wrote in an editorial on January 24 that “a vast supply of advanced, state-of-the art weapons of various kinds, including weapons provided by Iran” have flown into Hezbollah’s depots since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. He also asserted that while Israel targeted convoys transporting sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah, “dozens if not hundreds of convoys managed to [get through and] bring the necessary [weapons] to the resistance bases in Lebanon.”
“Israel reads the map and realizes that Hizbullah’s weapons arsenal has steadily grown, and is now several times larger than it was in 2006, and that the kind of weapons that the enemy tried and is still trying to prevent the resistance from acquiring – namely, what Israel calls ‘game-changing’ weapons – is available to it in great amounts,” al-Amin claimed.
Al-Amin observed that Hezbollah fired 4,300 rockets into Israel during the 2006 war between the two. Now, Israel estimates that Hezbollah would be able to fire 1,500 rockets at it each day, but “these are the enemy’s estimates, and they are surely wrong,” he wrote.
A separate report on Hezbollah’s preparations for another confrontation with Israel appeared several days earlier in Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Lebanese Prime Minister Sa’d Al-Hariri, aa rival of Hezbollah. The paper confirmed that Hezbollah was operating in southern Lebanon, in violation United Nations Security Council resolution 1701. “Hizbullah has concealed forward positions on the international border [between Lebanon and Israel], including tunnels it dug over 10 years ago, especially in the Al-Labouna area, south of Al-Naqoura. [This area] overlooks the Palestinian coast and the [Israeli] towns of Shlomi and Nahariya,” Al-Mustaqbal noted. The report also claimed that Hezbollah has shared its tunnel digging expertise with Hamas.