Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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DAILY ALERT

December 16, 2004

To contact the Presidents Conference:
info@prescon.org

In-Depth Issues:

U.S. Reviewing Military Options Against Syria (Maariv International)
    Washington is reassessing its policy towards Syria, in light of increasing evidence that President Assad has no intention of keeping his promises to the U.S. to stop cooperating with the Iraqi Sunni insurgency.
    The main debate is whether any U.S. military strike should be confined to a few targets, destruction of which would inflict enough pain on Assad and his regime to prompt them to rein in the anti-U.S. forces operating from Syria, or whether a broad military campaign aimed at regime change would be preferable.
    The volume of fighting forces and war materiel crossing from Syria to Iraq has increased rather than diminished, and armed bands on the Iraqi side of the border aggressively attack American forces.
    Tribes dominating the border region are on the Iraqi insurgents' payroll, receiving large weekly payments from Iraqi Baath headquarters in Damascus.
    The Damascus center is the hub of 4,000 ex-party leaders and army chiefs living in Syria. It awards the tribes a bonus for every attack they mount against American or Iraqi forces.
    There have been several unpublicized battles between American and Syrian forces, when Syrian troops tried to prevent the Americans from carrying out a hot pursuit of Iraqi insurgents at the border.
    Some of the Syrian targets on the U.S. drawing board have an Iranian component, either in the form of a financial investment, or the presence of Iranian military or civilian liaison personnel.


Hamas U.S. Websites Shut Down - Aaron Klein (WorldNetDaily)
    Official Hamas websites hosted in the U.S. were shut down Tuesday following inquiries by WorldNetDaily.
    The website of the Islamic Bloc, Hamas' student wing, www.alkotla.net, which urged students to become "martyrs," encouraged anti-Israeli terrorism, and praised suicide bombers, was being hosted by Co-Location.com Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif.
    Also shut down was www.alresalah.org, a weekly online Arabic periodical published in Gaza on behalf of the Islamic Salvation Party, a branch of Hamas, hosted by Rackspace.com of San Antonio, Texas.
    Hamas sites www.islamicblock.org and www.fm-m.com, which were previously hosted by ThePlanet.com of Dallas, Texas, but were moved to EveryOne's Internet in Houston, were closed as well.
    See also Marketing Hamas Terrorism through the Internet (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies)


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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Israel Willing to Return to "Roadmap"
    Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom called Wednesday for both the Palestinians and the Syrians to show they are ready for peace with Israel. After the Palestinian elections on Jan. 9, Shalom said, Israel would be open to a new conversation with the Palestinians and the Americans about how to move toward peace based on the Roadmap plan. While encouraged by PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas's statements urging Palestinians to halt violence against Israelis, Israeli officials also note that violence has not stopped and that Abbas will need time to reshape the Palestinian security forces, let alone confront radical Islamic groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
        One Israeli official said Prime Minister Sharon does not want to be "trapped" into a discussion of a Palestinian state, leaping to the second stage of the road map, before Palestinians meet their commitments to stopping violence and incitement to violence in the first stage. (New York Times)
  • Abbas Denies Seeking End to Armed Struggle
    PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday denied calling for an end to the armed struggle against Israel. "I don't want my comment on the demilitarization of the uprising to be misunderstood....All I meant is that we are in a phase that does not necessitate arms because we want to negotiate," Abbas said in Riyadh. (UPI/Washington Times)
  • Israeli Terror Victims to Sue Arab Bank in America
    More than 500 plaintiffs representing families of Israeli victims of terrorism are expected to file soon a multibillion dollar federal lawsuit in New York accusing the Arab Bank of Jordan of abetting Palestinian terrorist groups. (Forward)
  • Hardline Islamists in the Iraqi Insurgency
    Abu Mojahed, the commander of a hardline Islamic cell in the Iraqi insurgency, was jailed four times under Saddam's regime because of his adherence to the strict Salafi creed of Sunni Islam. "We fight the Americans because they are non-believers," he said. The motivations of Iraqi insurgents vary: some are undoubtedly from Saddam's military and intelligence apparatus, others fight to defend tribal or nationalistic honor, but alongside them a much more extreme Islamic militancy has emerged. (Guardian-UK)
        See also Iraq's Defense Minister Accuses Syria, Iran of Supporting al-Zarqawi's Terror Group (AP/Boston Globe)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Five Israelis Hurt in Gaza Shooting Attacks - Arnon Regular and Amos Harel
    Five Israelis were wounded, two of them moderately, in two shooting incidents Wednesday on the Kissufim-Gush Katif road in Gaza. In addition, a number of Kassam rockets and mortars were fired at Gush Katif, damaging one home. (Ha'aretz)
  • Abbas Rejects Israeli Initiative to Resettle Palestinian Refugees - Khaled Abu Toameh
    PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday rejected a new Israeli initiative to resettle Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring Arab countries. "Any proposal regarding the resettlement of the refugees is completely rejected," Abbas told reporters in Saudi Arabia. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Egypt Postpones Troop Deployment on Gaza Border - Aluf Benn
    Egypt has postponed until April 2005 its increased deployment of soldiers along the Egyptian side of the Egypt-Gaza border. Egypt had previously offered to deploy 750 soldiers as early as January. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Mideast's Second Chance - Sen. Joseph Biden
    The test for the Palestinians should be whether they make a concerted, sustained effort against terrorism. The sooner they meet the basic responsibilities of statehood, the sooner they will have a state. Israel should transfer responsibility for security to the Palestinians wherever they show they are ready to assume it. The U.S. can help by funding highly visible projects - such as building hospitals and schools - that will help Abbas put thousands of people to work. Finally, the U.S. must demand that neighboring Arab countries take visible steps toward normalization with Israel. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Islam and Democracy - Editorial
    The American motive in co-sponsoring the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative was to further debate about democracy in a region all too willing to defend an authoritarian exceptionalism. It was also to tackle terrorism at its roots. The singular and terrible achievement of extremist Islamist clerics from Saudi Arabia to Finsbury Park has been to present a distorted and highly selective view of the Koran as an authoritative one that brooks no dissent. In recent months, moderate Muslims have noted that a 7th-century text deserves better than a 7th-century interpretation. At the same time, non-Muslims across Western Europe have abandoned the silence about Islamic fundamentalism once required by political correctness.
        Democracy's failure to take root in key Arab Muslim countries is a sign not of incompatibility but of work still to be done and the durability of dictatorships. (Times-UK)
        See also Straight Talk - Editorial
    Last week 30 representatives of civic organizations from 13 Arab countries met in Rabat, Morocco, on the sidelines of the first meeting of the diplomatic instrument the U.S. and other industrialized countries created this year to encourage liberalization in the zone from Morocco to Afghanistan. What was new at the "Forum for the Future" was the presence of the civil society delegation, which said in a statement, "The main obstacle hindering reform is the lack of willingness on the part of most Arab governments to undertake real reforms." "Palestinian and Iraqi issues should not be used as excuses for not launching reforms." Moreover, Western governments should "relate their political and economic cooperation to the progress of reforms." (Washington Post)
  • A New Period in Arab-Israeli Relations? - Stephen Schwartz
    Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom has predicted that "ten Arab countries will soon open diplomatic relations with Israel. A good period awaits us with the Arab world." In the near term, candidates for revived and improved diplomatic relations include Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, and Oman. The inclusion of Oman on the list is, at first glance, remarkable. Oman's majority follows a religious tradition known as Ibadhism that is the most conservative form of Islam in the world. Oman's constitution, the Basic Charter, declares that the state is founded on Sharia law and makes Islam the state religion. Yet Oman differs from Saudi Arabia in permitting open religious worship by non-Muslims, mainly Christians and Hindus. (Weekly Standard)
  • Observations:

    Reading the Egyptian Sphinx - Efraim Inbar (Jerusalem Post)

    • The new change in tone from Cairo does not necessarily reflect a strategic decision to change Egypt's policy toward Israel.
    • The democratization component of U.S. policy is particularly threatening to dictatorships like the Egyptian regime. Egypt prefers to see the Americans busy with peace efforts in the Israeli-Palestinian arena rather than pushing for reform in the Arab world.
    • Egypt well understands that the Bush vision of a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is closer to its own vision than to Sharon's prescription. A renewal of Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Syrian peace talks might therefore put stress on Israel's relationship with Washington.
    • In addition, the impetus for Cairo's new approach stems from the uncertainty surrounding the future of Gaza following an Israeli withdrawal. Cairo's fear that a Hamas-led Islamic state would be established on the Gaza-Egypt border forced it to abandon an understandable reluctance to play a more active role there.
    • Moreover, the terrorist attack on the Taba Hilton in October has a Palestinian link which has pushed Egypt into greater cooperation with Israel. It wants to improve the overall security environment so as to reduce terror emanating from Gaza.
    • Israel should welcome any improvement in bilateral relations. However, Jerusalem must demand that Cairo live up to its peace treaty commitments, including a reform of the Egyptian school curriculum with a view to imbuing the next generation of Egyptians with a more positive attitude toward Israel.
    • The slight changes in Egyptian positions we are now seeing are easily reversible, but they could reflect a step toward the reluctant acceptance of Israel as a fait accompli.

      The writer is director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University.


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