Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference:
Syrian Oil Production Dropped a Third Since 1996 (SANA-Syria)
Iran Finances Pro-Assad Militias in Syria (Middle East Newsline)
Saudi Arabia Casts Wary Eye on its Shiites - Michael B. Farrell (Christian Science Monitor)
Teacher's Anti-Israel Resolution Splits Union - Colin Perkel (Canadian Press)
Sudan-Israel Friendship Group Breaks Taboos - Brian Adeba
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Berlin on Wednesday that now is not the time for the U.S. to talk to adversary Iran. The Iranians "refuse to do what the international community insists that they do," a reference to a UN demand that Iran roll back nuclear activities. Until the Iranians comply, "this is not the time to break a long-standing American policy of not engaging with the Iranians bilaterally," Rice said.
Rice also announced that the Quartet - the U.S., EU, Russia, and the UN - will convene a Mideast strategy session early next month in Washington. (AP/Washington Post)
Secretary of State Rice will return to the region next month for three-way talks with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert's aides said he views the encounter as part of a "pre-negotiation stage" in which the two sides build trust through initial steps, such as Israel's easing of cargo restrictions, a halt to Palestinian rocket attacks, and an exchange of prisoners. "We're still at the early stages of building the confidence necessary to open peace negotiations," said Miri Eisin, the prime minister's spokeswoman. "We're not there yet, and we're not going to be cutting corners."
Israelis feel burned for having tried to negotiate a peace deal with Yasser Arafat, only to see those talks give way in 2000 to a Palestinian uprising. Israel is also distrustful of Abbas' authority, which was weakened by the militant Hamas movement's victory in parliamentary elections a year ago, and is loath to discuss territorial concessions with a leader it sees as unable to restrain large-scale violence against the Jewish state. (Los Angeles Times)
Israel will issue all commercial airlines that fly to its territory with a pilot identification system designed to prevent September 11-style attacks, Israeli officials said Tuesday. Planes without the "Code Positive" system, developed by the Israeli firm Elbit, will be turned back from Israeli airspace. Israel is widely considered to have the world's most sophisticated aviation security.
Danny Shenar, head of security at the Transportation Ministry, told Israel's Army Radio, "This system was developed to prevent aviation mega-terror over Israel, in the form of a plane coming through one of the borders and crashing into a target in Israel....The system should be operational by the end of the year....Using this card, it will be possible to verify that the person flying the aircraft is indeed the person qualified to fly it." Shenar said it would be impossible for a hijacker to force a pilot to hand over identifying details. (Reuters/Washington Post)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
The Israel Defense Forces has raised objections to U.S. plans to equip Mahmoud Abbas' forces with battle gear as part of an $86 million U.S. program to strengthen the PA presidential guard, an Israeli security source and European diplomats said Wednesday. "The IDF's objections in this case center on equipment, such as body armor, that is liable to wind up in the wrong hands and be used for terrorism," an Israeli security source said. (Ha'aretz)
A Kassam rocket fired by Palestinians in Gaza landed in the western Negev on Wednesday. (Jerusalem Post)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is making a high-profile effort to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - in spite of an unfavorable situation in the region - in order to solidify an alliance of "the mainstream" against Iran and in support of U.S. policy in Iraq. The administration has decided to seek $98 million in funding for Palestinian security forces - the same forces it rightly condemned in the past as hopelessly corrupt and compromised by involvement in terrorism. Those forces haven't changed, but since they are nominally loyal to "mainstream" Mahmoud Abbas and serve as a check on the power of the "extremist" Hamas, they are on the right side of Ms. Rice's new divide. So is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a thuggish autocrat who was on the wrong side of Ms. Rice's previous Mideast divide between pro-democracy forces and defenders of the illiberal status quo.
The administration's concern about Iran is well founded. Yet the new U.S. policy betrays President Bush's freedom agenda, giving a free pass to dictators who support the new geopolitical cause. Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice have said again and again that such trade-offs during the Cold War helped lay the groundwork for groups such as al-Qaeda - which was founded and is led by Saudis and Egyptians. (Washington Post)
Iran consistently has sought to use its position on the Palestine issue to extend its influence throughout the Middle East at the expense of U.S. allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Unlike those states, the Iranians have followed through with financial support. The $35 million that Hamas-affiliated Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was recently discovered carrying into Gaza was reported to be Iranian money. To the Iranians, assisting Hamas financially against Fatah is just another facet of what has become a successful effort to build Tehran's prestige among average Arabs. Washington's support for Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah is not only an effort to cripple Hamas, but also to blunt Iran's growing regional power. Abbas' defeat would cede yet another important part of the Middle East to Iranian influence, reinforcing the sense that the U.S., Israel and major Arab powers are on the defensive and unable to deter Iran's drive for power.
On one level it makes sense to arm forces loyal to Abbas against Hamas, but the policy is based on the assumption that Fatah can either weaken Hamas or fight the organization to a draw. It is entirely possible that Hamas would prevail; after all, Hamas is better equipped and better organized than the Fatah-affiliated forces. The policy of training forces loyal to Abbas is in many ways similar to the mistakes the U.S. made in Iraq, where Washington essentially trained one set of militias to fight their rivals. The writer is a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Newsday)
According to the Arab American Institute, there are approximately 3.5 million people of Arab heritage in the U.S. today. Nearly 40% are Lebanese, mostly Christians, who are largely unsympathetic to the Arab lobby's anti-Israel perspectives. Only about 70,000 Palestinian Americans reside in the U.S., a small percentage of the Arab American population, but the Palestinian cause heads the Arab lobby's list of concerns.
The Atlanta-based Carter Center has been a longtime recipient of Arab funding. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd made several large donations to the Center, including a 1993 gift of $7.6 million. As of 2005, the king's nephew, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, had given at least $5 million to the Carter Center. (FrontPageMagazine)
Can a Conventional Army Vanquish a Terrorist Insurgency?
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