Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference:
Death Toll of Israeli Civilians Killed by Palestinians Hits Six-Year Low - Dion Nissenbaum (McClatchy)
Why Isn't U.S. Military Using Israel's Anti-RPG "Trophy" in Iraq? - Adam Ciralsky and Lisa Myers (NBC News)
Sa'd al-Hariri: "Iran is Playing a Dangerous Role in Lebanon" (MEMRI)
Israeli Population in West Bank Grew by 6% in 2006 - Shahar Ilan (Ha'aretz)
Tehran: 120 People a Day Die from Toxic Fumes - Robert Tait (Guardian-UK)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has been authorized to take covert action against Hizbullah as part of a secret plan by President George W. Bush to help the Lebanese government prevent the spread of Iranian influence. The finding was signed by Bush before Christmas after discussions between his aides and Saudi Arabian officials. It authorizes the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies to fund anti-Hizbullah groups in Lebanon and pay for activists who support the Siniora government. The secrecy of the finding means that U.S. involvement is officially deniable.
Bush's move is at the center of a fresh drive by America, supported by the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as Israel, to stop Iranian hegemony in the Middle East. "There's a feeling both in Jerusalem and in Riyadh that the anti-Sunni tilt in the region has gone too far," said an intelligence source. "By removing Saddam, we've shifted things in favor of the Shia and this is a counter-balancing exercise." (Telegraph-UK)
In a televised address Wednesday, President Bush said: "Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States. The consequences of failure are clear: Radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits. They would be in a better position to topple moderate governments, create chaos in the region, and use oil revenues to fund their ambitions. Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Our enemies would have a safe haven from which to plan and launch attacks on the American people. On September the 11th, 2001, we saw what a refuge for extremists on the other side of the world could bring to the streets of our own cities."
"Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
"The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region." (White House)
Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, who was a graduate student at the University of Mississippi in the early 1990s, was an important Hamas terrorist leader directing thousands of dollars to families of members who were jailed or killed, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph M. Ferguson said Tuesday in closing arguments at the trial of two accused militants. "He's Hamas, and he's assisting the murderous terrorist activities of Hamas," Ferguson told jurors. "We're talking about someone who is a graduate student...and you see hundreds of thousands of dollars coursing through his accounts," Ferguson said. Federal agents found that Ashqar spoke 568 times by phone with Mousa Abu Marzook, a top Hamas leader believed to be living in Syria. (AP/FOX News)
Assailants gunned down Muslim preacher Adel Nasar, known for his anti-Hamas views, moments after he exited a mosque last Friday where he delivered a sermon criticizing the Islamic group's role in a wave of Palestinian violence. (AP/Boston Globe)
See also Photo Essay: Fatah vs. Hamas in the Palestinian Territories (TIME)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert emerged from his meeting Wednesday in Beijing with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao saying that he heard things from his Chinese counterpart regarding the Iranian nuclear issue "that were surprising - surprisingly positive and unexpected." Diplomatic officials said that in private contacts between Israeli and Chinese diplomats recently, the Chinese have emphasized their opposition to the Iranian nuclear program and have reaffirmed their commitment to cooperate with attempts to stop it.
While China is heavily dependent on Iran for oil, importing roughly 300,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day, that dependence is not as great today as it was a year ago. In January 2006, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah reportedly told the Chinese leadership that Saudi Arabia would make up for any oil shortfall that might arise were the Iranians to cut back oil to China as punishment for sanctions. (Jerusalem Post)
Hamas denied Wednesday that its Damascus-based political chief Khaled Mashaal said in a Reuters interview that his group would consider recognizing Israel once a Palestinian state is established. Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Mashaal said, "Israel exists - and that's a fact." However, Hamad maintained that Mashaal did not say anything about recognizing Israel. "There was no change in our stance that Hamas does not recognize Israel," he said. (Ha'aretz)
MK Raleb Majadele (Labor) has been appointed Minister of Science, Technology, Culture, and Sports, the first Arab to be appointed a minister in Israel. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is apparently proposing peace talks with Israel for a simple reason: He is afraid of the international court that is supposed to be set up in the next few months to try the suspects in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri and other political assassinations in Beirut. The Syrians well know that the UN investigating committee headed by Serge Brammertz is taking its time because it already has enough evidence in hand for indictments against senior figures in Syria, including some who are members of the Assad family itself, or at least very close to it.
Basically, Assad is asking Israel to cover for him and his crimes, and for Syria and Hizbullah to be allowed to behead the Lebanese government with Israel's silent acquiescence. All this without a hint of a guarantee that Assad is genuinely prepared to cut his alliance with Iran and Hizbullah and turn instead to the moderate Arab Sunni camp that sees Israel as a partner against the extremists. Would it not be better to continue insisting that Syria first shows some proof that it is serious, for example by reining in Hamas and Hizbullah, instead of handing Assad an open check? (Jerusalem Report/Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Israel is certainly thinking about how to stop Tehran from getting its hands on nukes. And why wouldn't it? Given the evident failure of American diplomacy and UN sanctions, Israel has two basic choices. It can sit and wait, hoping the Iranians do not drop a bomb on Tel Aviv; or it can preemptively attack, hoping to destroy, or at least retard, the Iranians' nuclear capacity. Israel is a small, crowded country with a very poor civil defense infrastructure and a population traumatized by its own recent history. Perhaps the Iranian government doubts that the Holocaust happened, but there are 6 million Israeli Jews who don't doubt it.
There are some who believe that it is in Israel's interest for the U.S. to solve this problem. But they are mistaken. The truth is, the U.S. is not directly menaced by Iranian weapons. When President Bush says an Iranian bomb would threaten U.S. friends and interests in the region, he is speaking primarily about Israel. The Iranians frighten a lot of Sunni Arab countries, but they pose an existential threat only to the Jewish state. (Los Angeles Times)
Ending Israeli-Palestinian Dispute Won't Resolve Other Mideast Problems - Youssef Ibrahim (New York Sun)
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