Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
To contact the Presidents Conference:
Report: Fatah Arrests Seven Iranian Weapons Experts in Gaza - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
- February 1, 2007
Issue of the Week:
Environmental Issues in Israel
Syria Successfully Tests Scud D Missile (Jerusalem Post)
Israel Selects Rafael Anti-Missile Defense System - Ron Ben-Yishai (Ynet News)
Lebanese Girl Prayed for Father to Die in Battle with Israel - Tom Perry (Reuters)
U.S. Astronauts Visit Israel for Anniversary of Columbia Crash - Zohar Blumenkrantz (Ha'aretz)
New York Mayor Dedicates Israeli Medical Facility in Father's Name - Diane Cardwell (New York Times)
Industrial Exports Up 11% in 2006 - Avi Krawitz (Jerusalem Post)
Divers Remove Ton of Garbage from Sea of Galilee - Eli Ashkenazi (Ha'aretz)
News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will launch a new effort to forge a Palestinian state by seeking an endorsement Friday from a Washington meeting of the Quartet that monitors Middle East peace. In a series of recent trips to the region, Rice has tried to unite what she calls "mainstream" Arabs against extremist forces that include Iran, Hamas, and Hizbullah. She suggests that the strategic interests of Israel and its neighbors have begun to overlap, making it easier to win Arab support for and interest in a peace deal.
Accepting an approach long urged by Europeans and Palestinians, Rice will push Olmert and Abbas to discuss the contours of a final peace deal, even though they have made little progress in implementing the initial steps of a peace plan promoted by the administration for the past four years. Rice suggests that sketching a "political horizon" will boost the confidence of the two sides to take those initial steps - and to ultimately give Abbas the leverage to defeat Hamas. (Washington Post)
A federal jury in Chicago acquitted two men Thursday of charges that they were part of a long-running conspiracy to finance Hamas activities in Israel. But Abdelhaleem Ashqar, 48, and Muhammad Salah, 53, were found guilty of lesser charges: Ashqar was convicted of obstruction of justice and criminal contempt for refusing to testify in front of a grand jury, while Salah was convicted of obstruction for providing false answers in a civil lawsuit. Salah was accused of helping funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza. He was captured by the Israelis with $100,000 in cash in 1993 and allegedly confessed to being a military commander in Hamas. Ashqar was alleged to have helped launder money and facilitate communications for Hamas. (Washington Post)
The unanimous passage of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran in December has shaken that nation's public and ruling elite, prompting talk of a shake-up of top officials and fears of a U.S. attack. "There is a deep concern and uncertainty on behalf of the Iranian leaders about the consequences of the nuclear program of Ahmadinejad's administration," said Hossein Bastani, the former general secretary of the Association of Iranian Journalists.
A senior diplomat from the region said Iranians were troubled less by the specific economic sanctions than by the lineup of countries that had supported them, including Russia and China. An alliance of reformists and conservative "realists" has emerged to say the president's actions are leading the country to the brink of war. Reports also say Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is upset at Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's inability to win allies among Iran's Arab neighbors at a time when the U.S. is encouraging moderate Arab states to line up against Iran. (Washington Times)
Israeli authorities are involved in excavation projects in Jerusalem near where the biblical Jewish Temples once stood. The Islamic Trust, which administers the Dome of the Rock Muslim shrine and the al-Aqsa Mosque, says the work has weakened those structures. But Arieh Banner, an official with Israel's Western Wall Heritage Foundation, said there was no chance the work would cause damage. Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Jewish holy sites in Israel, said there were no plans to excavate under the Dome of the Rock, located on the Temple Mount. "There has not been any such plan....Any work that is being done is far away from the Temple Mount. There is no doubt about that."
In recent days there have been reports of a plan by Jews to build a synagogue near the al-Aqsa Mosque. But Rabbi Rabinowitz said, "We are not speaking about a new synagogue, but the renovation of a synagogue which was established before 1967 and one which is far away from the Temple Mount." (Reuters)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
Thirteen Palestinian militants, all but one from Fatah, have been killed in violent clashes between Hamas and Fatah since a brief cease-fire collapsed Thursday, Palestinian sources said Friday. Some 170 have been wounded in the fierce fighting. Hamas fighters blew up a pro-Fatah radio station in Gaza on Friday, ambulances were caught in the crossfire, and gunmen exchanged heavy fire in deserted streets. (Ha'aretz)
See also Hamas Clears Fatah Posts in Gaza - Ali Waked
Heavy clashes between Fatah and Hamas members continued Friday morning in Gaza. Hamas members killed two Palestinian intelligence officers and took over dozens of posts belonging to the Palestinian security forces. In some of the posts, Fatah-affiliated security officers were being held hostage. (Ynet News)
See also Hamas Ambushes Fatah Convoy, Kills Six - Ali Waked
Hamas gunmen ambushed a Fatah convoy in Gaza on Thursday, killing six Fatah members. "A real war is taking place, gunmen are using the heaviest arms they have," said one witness. (Ynet News)
See also Egyptians Blame Hamas as Gaza Ceasefire Collapses - Avi Issacharoff and Mijal Grinberg (Ha'aretz)
The recent clashes made it clear that Hamas' supremacy in Gaza is in doubt. At the beginning of the week in Gaza, militants stopped passing cars to check for activists of their rival organization. If a "wanted man" was found in a vehicle, he was kidnapped immediately. Snipers and militants armed with rockets took positions on top of tall buildings. In Jabalya, Hamas forces tried to surround the homes of key operatives in the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades in order to kill them. The arguments in the media over how to define the battles sounded almost disconnected from reality in light of the war that had already begun.
Almost all Gaza residents who are not members of Fatah or Hamas sound tired of local politics. Fatah and Hamas have a negative image among the Palestinian public. This is a familiar problem for Fatah, but Hamas, which worked so hard to create the image of the "protector of the people," has lost its credibility and come to be seen by the silent Palestinian majority as wanting the best only for its own people rather than looking out for the good of the public at large. (Ha'aretz)
See also Fatah vs. Hamas in Gaza - Suhail Ahmed
Driving around Gaza and talking to residents, many say they are against Hamas, even if they voted Hamas in last year's elections. Mahmoud Abed, who runs a Gaza shoe store, said, "I believed that Hamas was better than Fatah, but in the end I discovered that they're both bad." The level of mutual trust between Fatah and Hamas is at such a low point that many assume that any agreement can only be temporary. Both movements have rival armed wings ready to battle at the drop of a hat. They also have armies of media professionals and spin-masters, and their own local radio and television stations and websites. The fighting can be explained as much by mutual animosity and personal conflicts as by political or ideological disagreement. (Ha'aretz)
See also Fatah vs. Hamas in the West Bank - Karin Laub
Fatah gunmen in Nablus casually bragged about their latest exploit - kidnapping a Hamas city council member from a crowded downtown bank. The men are untouchable - the vanguard of Fatah's fight against Hamas in the West Bank. But vigilante violence is also driving the West Bank's largest city deeper into lawlessness, terrifying residents and hurting Fatah's attempted political comeback after its election defeat by Hamas last year.
Fatah's armed men, numbering between 150 and 200 in the Nablus area, have been trying to draw out Hamas gunmen to test their strength. Last month, Al Aqsa men fired toward a rally marking the anniversary of Hamas' election victory. Two dozen masked Hamas gunmen returned fire, and a civilian was killed by a stray bullet in his home. (AP/Washington Post)
Palestinians in Gaza fired three Kassam rockets at Israel Thursday night. One rocket landed in the Sderot cemetery. (Ynet News)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):
The kidnappers of Peruvian press photographer Jaime Razuri in Gaza in January 2007 belonged to "the Islamic Army" headed by Mumtaz Durmush, and the negotiations to obtain his release took place via Fatah bodies aided by representatives of the "Popular Resistance Committees." The Durmush clan was also involved in the kidnapping of two Fox News correspondents, who were freed in return for a ransom payment of about $1 million, which was transferred via the Hamas government. Informed circles in Gaza believe that Durmush and his people tend to camouflage themselves behind various names such as "the Islamic Army," "Palestine Al-Qaeda," "the Sacred Jihad Brigade," and the "Muslim Swords Brigades of Fatah," to give an aura of power. Durmush and his men specialize in "quality" kidnappings and adroitly maneuver between Hamas and Fatah.
Yet the trust between Hamas and the Durmush clan was broken in mid-December 2006, when two clan members belonging to Fatah were liquidated by armed Hamas members from the "Deri" clan. This led to a tactical rapprochement between Mumtaz Durmush and Abbas' right-hand man, Mohammed Dahlan, giving a moral boost to Fatah forces in Gaza competing against Hamas. Two of the three organizations involved in the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006 are controlled by members of the Durmush clan: "the Islamic Army" led by Mumtaz and the "Popular Resistance Committees," led by Zakaria and Muataz Durmush.
Serious doubt exists as to Hamas' control over Shalit's kidnappers. Hamas may have to present concessions from Israel to the Durmush clan and seek their approval for the deal, should one be reached. Thus, the main negotiating channel for Shalit's release, mediated by Egypt, might turn out to have no real foundation. The recent conflict, which created a rift between the Durmush clan and Hamas in Gaza, and the likelihood that the Durmushes will not easily concede their valuable stake in the kidnapping of the soldier, do not bode well for the negotiations. The writer is an IDF Colonel (res.). (Omedia)
A state of Palestine already exists. It was founded in the summer of 2005, when Israel removed its military forces and civilian population from Gaza and so established the first wholly independent Palestinian state in history. And it is a nightmare. In Palestine, 88% of the public feels insecure. The ratio of men-under-arms to civilians is higher than in any other country on earth. Worshipers in mosques are gunned down by terrorists who attend competing mosques. Ambulances are stopped on the way to hospitals and wounded are shot in cold blood. Terrorists enter operating rooms in hospitals and unplug patients from life-support machines. (Jerusalem Post)
In 2005, Bloomberg.com reported, Iran's government earned $44.6 billion from oil and spent $25 billion on subsidies - for housing, jobs, food and 34-cents-a-gallon gasoline - to buy off interest groups. Iran's current populist president has further increased the goods and services being subsidized. So if oil prices fall sharply again, Iran's regime will have to take away many benefits from many Iranians, as the Soviets had to do. For a regime already unpopular with many of its people, that could cause all kinds of problems and give rise to an Ayatollah Gorbachev. We know how that ends. (New York Times, 2Feb07)
Israel now has more "friends among [its] enemies than ever before," says Tel Aviv University historian Paul Liptz. The region's most salient fissure, he believes, divides the "status quo" forces (such as Egypt and Jordan) from those of radicalism and revolution (such as Iran and Hizbullah). An Israeli security source carves the Middle East into two groups: a "radical" camp (Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas) and a "moderate" camp (including Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia). Notice that the "moderates" are all Sunni Arab autocracies, who fear not only a nuclear-armed Persian Iran but also an Iranian-led "Shiite crescent" that might dominate the region.
Today, the Bush administration distinguishes less between "democrats" and "dictators" and more between "moderates" and "extremists" - as do the Israelis. Both see Iran as the overriding menace to world peace, whether through its patronage of Hizbullah and Hamas, its meddling in Iraq, or its pursuit of nukes, the last of which presents an existential threat to the Jewish state. Preventing a nuclear Iran seems to be the order of the day. (Weekly Standard)
Is Israel the Problem? - Amir Taheri (Commentary)
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