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Investigation Reveals Al Qaeda Activities in Syria - Sebastian Rotella (Los Angeles Times)
Syria functioned as a hub for an al Qaeda network that moved Islamic extremists and funds from Italy to northeastern Iraq, according to an Italian investigation.
Two weeks ago, Italian police arrested seven alleged al Qaeda operatives who sent 40 extremists through Syria to terrorist bases operated jointly by al Qaeda and Ansar al Islam, whose stronghold in northeast Iraq was recently overrun by Kurdish and U.S. troops.
Transcripts of wiretapped conversations among the suspected operatives paint a detailed picture of overseers in Syria coordinating the movement of recruits and money between Europe and Iraq.
Is Bashar Assad in Control? - Robin Wright (Los Angeles Times)
Bashar Assad may not have enough control over his own government to prevent Iraqi officials from crossing the border into his country, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
In the past, Syria has provided refuge to a range of extremists - Palestinians, Turks, Lebanese, even former Nazis and a renegade U.S. intelligence agent - and denied doing so, according to Henri J. Barkey, a former member of the State Department policy planning staff.
Washington has concluded that Assad does not have total control of his government in Damascus, so the U.S.'s public warnings are designed to target a wide swath of Syrian society, including military and intelligence officials as well as political and commercial interests engaged in rogue activities.
Syrian Military Forces and Capabilities - Anthony Cordesman (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
Syria continues to try to support a force structure at least one-third larger than it has the resources to make effective.
Garrison duty in Lebanon has led to widespread corruption in the Syrian military forces.
Syrian readiness standards are poor, as is maintenance, and large amounts of army, air, and naval equipment are not combat capable, or have limited sustainability in combat.
See also Syria's Military Machine - Fred Kaplan (Slate)
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We wish our readers a Happy Passover holiday.
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U.S. Forces in Iraq Capture Palestinian Terrorist Leader Abu Abbas
U.S. special forces in Iraq have captured Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Abbas - the mastermind of the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achilli Lauro, during which a wheelchair-bound American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot dead and thrown into the sea.
An Italian court sentenced Abbas to five life prison terms in absentia for the hijacking.
Abbas is believed to have lived most of the past 17 years in Iraq. (VOA)
U.S. Seeks to Stop Oil from Iraq to Syria
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that U.S. forces have shut down a pipeline used for illegal oil shipments from Iraq to Syria, but he could not assure that oil is not still flowing between those two countries. In violation of UN sanctions, Syria had received 150,000 to 200,000 barrels of oil daily through the pipeline, which opened in 2000. (AP/Washington Post)
U.S. Hears Israel's Concerns on Road Map
After meeting with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior administration officials to discuss the road map, prime minister Sharon's chief of staff Dov Weisglass said Monday that the Bush administration has agreed to take into account Israel's security concerns and a need to end terror. "Israel will have a further chance to comment on the road map once it is formally conveyed to the parties," Weisglass said. (San Francisco Chronicle)
"We expect that after the road map has been formally released we will receive additional comments from the Israeli side," Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday. "And we also expect at that time to receive comments from the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority." (Ha'aretz)
News Resources - Israel, the Mideast, and Asia:
Israel on High Alert for Holiday Terror Attacks - Roni Singer
The security establishment is taking special precautions for Passover after receiving some 56 warnings of terror attacks during the holiday. The warnings include suicide attacks, booby-trapped cars, bombs, infiltration attacks, and the kidnapping of soldiers. Security forces expect Hamas and Islamic Jihad to make a special effort to carry out terror attacks on the anniversary of the Park Hotel attack in Netanya, in which 29 people were killed on Seder night last year, in order to reinstate the Palestinian issue on the international agenda.
Palestinian Reformers Drawing Lessons from Saddam's Fall - Khaled Abu Toameh
The war in Iraq has bolstered Arab and Palestinian reformers who believe that the time has come for real change in the Arab world. The change, they say, should begin by getting rid of the Arab despots and their corrupt regimes.
Palestinian newspapers are full of articles arguing that the Arab presidents, emirs, and monarchs must change their ways of governing, or they could meet the same end as Saddam. Yet commentators have been careful not to include Arafat in the list of corrupt Arab dictators who should step aside. (Jerusalem Post)
Fatah Central Committee Backs Abu Mazen
The Fatah central committee has decided to support Palestinian prime minister Abu Mazen in his efforts to form a new government, according to Jordanian sources. (tzamtzam.com [Hebrew])
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis
(Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Hopes for Middle East Peacemaking are Premature - Jonathan Freedland
Most Washington hands - Democrat and Republican alike - unite in their agreement that this administration will do little or nothing for Israeli-Palestinian peace this side of next year's presidential election. The hard-headed calculus says there is no domestic constituency for Middle East peacemaking - only plenty of groups ready to get angry if Bush puts a foot wrong.
The White House will put no pressure on Israel until the Palestinians are deemed to have made the grade on internal reform - and that judgment is not coming soon. (Guardian-UK)
Syria's Leadership will Keep the Dogs of War at Bay - Amir Taheri
Syria, in tandem with the mullahs of Tehran, supports a variety of terrorist groups that have targeted American interests (for example they murdered more than 300 Americans, including 241 Marines, in Beirut in 1982-83) and Israel. Today, 22 terrorist groups have offices in Damascus.
But while the chief weakness of Saddam’s regime was its suicidal inflexibility, the Syrian regime has always understood the reality of power and the need to back down when in a position of weakness. Using diplomatic, political, and economic pressure while keeping the military option open, the U.S.-led coalition should ask for the maximum, including support for the growing reform movement in Syria itself.
Finally, Syria must end its occupation of Lebanon, and the Mafia-style milking of that country that has enriched Baathist big shots. (London Times)
This Changes the Map of the Middle East Forever - Malcolm Rifkind
The people who will be most nervous, at present, will be the Iranians. For them, the creation of an American protectorate in Iraq, following the American protectorate in Afghanistan, and accompanied by a U.S. military presence in Pakistan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, and the Gulf, results in an Iran that has become encircled by the Great Satan.
The downside of this could be an acceleration of the Iranian nuclear program to ensure that Washington will never dare invade. If the Americans want to counter this, the key will be the cooperation of the Russians who should be worried about the prospects of a nuclear Iran on their border. (London Times)
A Trusteeship for Palestine? - Martin Indyk
The Bush administration's plan for Middle East peace is a road map to nowhere. In order to parlay the bounce from a successful Iraq war into serious Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, the time has come to consider the notion of a trusteeship for Palestine. (Foreign Affairs)
Israel's Strategy after the Iraq War - Maj. Gen. Ya'akov Amidror
(Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
- Israel has long feared the prospect of a Syrian-Iraqi coalition. In 1973, the last-minute entrance of Iraqi forces almost saved the Golan Heights for the Syrians. Removing the threat of an eastern coalition alters the entire Israeli position regarding a threat of war from the east.
- Unfortunately, there is no expectation of change on the Palestinian front as a result of the war. Palestinian terror can only be reduced by on-the-ground containment, IDF-style, by entering and controlling all areas that accommodate terror and its infrastructure.
- Israel's coerced adoption of the road map would severely compromise its achievements to date in its war against terrorism, enabling Arafat and the Palestinians to emerge as the big winners of the war in Iraq. Morally, I don't see how the Americans can extract Israeli payment for a Palestinian halt to terror. A forced adoption of the road map broadcasts to the Arabs that terror will be rewarded.
- Israel's efforts over the last two and a half years of war have planted the first seeds of change in Palestinian consciousness. Adoption of the road map could reverse all these gains, and Israel could find itself back in a situation in which the Palestinians are convinced that force is their ultimate tool.
- Hizballah has more than 12,000 Katyusha rockets and missiles that can reach all the way to Haifa. Israel will not live under such a threat. Ultimately, the war against Hizballah must be waged by Israel and not America. Israel must abide by the principle that guided it during its first years of independence: Israel must defend itself by itself.
- Syria is now the "superpower" of chemical weapons in the Middle East with hundreds of missiles, many of them with chemical warheads. Israel will have to do whatever is required in order to protect itself from Syrian and Iranian military capabilities.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Ya'akov Amidror is former head of the IDF's research and assessment division, with special responsibility for preparing the National Intelligence Assessment.
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