Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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February 5, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Dimona Suicide Bombing Highlights Israeli Security Problem Along Egyptian Border - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    Monday's suicide bombing in Dimona means the southern Negev has become the target for attacks and Israel is faced with a serious security problem along its 300-kilometer border with Egypt.
    In light of Egyptian difficulties in shutting off Gaza, a wave of additional terror attempts is expected in the coming weeks.
    In addition, the agreement with the Palestinian Authority whereby Israel allows previously wanted men to give up their weapons and remain free, which was considered a great success at the time, is starting to fall apart.
    There are now armed Fatah activists who are openly violating their agreements with the security forces.

Travel Brings Surprises to Gazans - Diaa Hadid (AP/Washington Post)
    A little travel has gone a long way toward changing perceptions in Gaza.
    Many Gazans who visited Egypt remarked on the discrepancy between their more glamorous image of urban Egypt - derived mostly from movies - and the run-down border region of unpaved streets and small houses they encountered.
    A trickle of Egyptians also made it into Gaza. Mohammed, an Egyptian truck driver who rented his truck to Palestinians to ferry goods into Gaza, pointed to cars crowding a nearby street and said: "I thought conditions here would be harder than this. I thought people would be starving."
    The speed with which Gazans bought up Egyptian goods prompted comments that Gaza is well on its way to colonizing Egypt.
    One Palestinian cartoon passed around by e-mail shows a Gazan throwing a rope over the Sphinx, trying to drag it into Gaza.

Gaza Baptists Targeted by Extremists - Erica Silverman (New York Daily News)
    Gaza is home to 1.5 million Muslims - and about 3,000 increasingly frightened Christians. The small evangelical Baptist community has been a principal target of the extremists because of its missionary work, which has been halted.
    "Christians get killed here, let alone a Muslim who converted," said Ashraf, 36, who did not give his last name. "I stopped going to church even before the [Hamas] coup."
    Recently, even his church leader, pastor Hanna Massad, fled to the West Bank.

Religions Collide in Oxford, England - Nick Britten (Telegraph-UK)
    The Oxford Central Mosque is seeking permission to broadcast a two-minute Muslim call to prayer through loudspeakers in the minaret three times a day, a proposal that has outraged many East Oxford locals.
    Charlie Cleverly, the rector of St. Aldates Church, said broadcasting the call to prayer was not like the "neutral" Christian call to prayer of the church bell.
    "I don't think the people of Oxford want to hear a call to prayer to Allah in the same way people don't want someone loud in their face asking them to buy coffee," he said. The city has 6,000 Muslims among its 150,000 inhabitants.
    According to Dr. Allan Chapman, a member of Oxford University's Faculty of History, who lives in the shadow of the mosque, "It's not a matter of people's right to religious freedom, it's about making Islam the religion of public space - getting into people's houses and work places."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Egypt and Palestinians Trade Fire at Gaza Border - Karin Laub
    Egyptian forces and Hamas police exchanged fire across the Gaza-Egypt border Monday, and defiant Hamas leaders warned they would not permit Gaza's resealed frontier to remain closed for long. A day after Egypt closed Gaza's only gate to the world, one Palestinian was killed and several dozen people were hurt, including eight with gunshot wounds, in the worst outbreak of violence since Jan. 23, when Hamas militants first toppled the border wall.
        After all border traffic was halted by Egyptian forces Monday, Gazans started throwing stones at the Egyptians, and Hamas did not interfere. Egyptian forces threw stones back, and then fired tear gas. At one point, gunfire erupted. Witnesses said they saw Hamas gunmen taking part in the fighting, which left a Palestinian man dead and 44 people wounded. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Al-Qaeda Focusing on WMDs - Josh Meyer
    Pakistan's President Musharraf announced in January 2006 that a senior al-Qaeda chemical weapons expert had been killed in a U.S. airstrike. But current and former U.S. intelligence officials now believe that the Egyptian, Abu Khabab Masri, is alive and well - and in charge of resurrecting al-Qaeda's program to develop or obtain weapons of mass destruction. Officials say al-Qaeda has regenerated at least some of its robust research and development efforts and is once again trying to develop or obtain chemical, biological, radiological, and even nuclear weapons to use in attacks on the U.S. and other enemies. One international counter-terrorism official said some operatives had received immunizations to protect themselves against biological agents.
        Recent intelligence shows that Abu Khabab, 54, is training Western recruits for chemical attacks in Europe and perhaps the U.S., just as he did when he ran the "Khabab Camp" at the Darunta training complex in Afghanistan's Tora Bora region before the Sep. 11 attacks, according to one senior U.S. intelligence official. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Rise in Iran-Made Bombs in Baghdad
    Attacks using Iranian-made roadside bombs in a key part of Baghdad rose in January to the highest level in a year, the U.S. military said on Sunday. The military said there were 12 EFP attacks against U.S. forces in northern and eastern Baghdad, including Sadr City, stronghold of the Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia. (Reuters)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Woman Killed in Dimona Attack Identified - Amos Harel and Mijal Grinberg
    The woman killed in the suicide bombing in Dimona on Monday has been identified as Lyubov Razdolskaya, 73. Rodolskaya's husband remains hospitalized in critical condition. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Survivor: "The Only Thing I See Is the Woman Who Died" - Shelly Paz
    One step to the right was the difference between life and death for Rita Gofman, who survived Monday's suicide bombing in Dimona's commercial center. She had just passed the woman who was killed in the bombing. "The only thing I see right now is the woman who died in front of my eyes, falling over and over," said Gofman, 28. "I didn't realize it was a terrorist attack. I felt as if I was a teddy bear thrown into space. I saw my legs in the air and a great yellow cloud that made my eyes burn," she said.
        "Most [wounds] resulted from small iron balls that were placed inside the explosive belt," said Dr. Michael Sherf, director-general of Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, which treated 40 wounded. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Mossad: Iran Greatest Threat to Israel - Amnon Meranda
    Mossad chief Meir Dagan told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas have joined forces against Israel. He said that according to some security estimates, Iran will obtain nuclear capabilities by 2009, while more optimistic estimates say Iran won't go nuclear before the end of 2010. He added that the recent U.S. National Intelligence Estimate may hinder international efforts to impose fresh sanctions on Tehran. (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian Rockets Damage Sderot Factories - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired two Kassam rockets that struck Sderot's industrial zone Tuesday morning. One rocket struck the warehouse of a kitchen manufacturing factory, while the other landed in the parking lot of a nearby plant. A number of workers suffered from shock. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Israeli Lesson - Editorial
    The news about Monday's suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Dimona is that it's the first in more than a year. This didn't happen by accident, or because Palestinian radicals have somehow become less hostile to Israel. Responsibility was claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which is affiliated with Mahmoud Abbas' ostensibly moderate Fatah party. Islamist Hamas remains even more ardently dedicated to Israel's destruction, a point it emphasizes with rocket barrages at southern Israeli cities close to Gaza.
        Key to Israel's increasingly successful antiterrorist efforts has been the construction of its ostensibly "illegal" security fence, its equally "illegal" targeted assassinations of key terrorist leaders, its "disproportional" attacks on terrorist enclaves in Jenin and elsewhere, and other actions that saved innocent lives. As Israel put pressure on terrorist leaders, they were forced to spend their time running for their lives rather than planning the next attack. As Israel set up physical obstacles to terrorism, the need for large-scale military incursions declined, allowing a semblance of normal life to return for Israelis as well as Palestinians. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, Israel proved that terrorists can be defeated. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Gaza Border Crisis Pressures Egypt More than Israel - Abdullah Iskandar
    Tehran is trying to hold Cairo responsible for the slowdown in normalizing relations without offering any compromise regarding Iranian behavior or policies. From an Egyptian perspective, official Iran still adheres to the policy of glorifying the killer of Anwar Sadat. However, a bigger source of anxiety is that the terrorism from which Egypt continues to suffer still finds its justification in this glorification. Different varieties of terror have hit several Arab countries and there is evidence implicating Iran, as it serves as a "safe haven" for those wanted in their own countries on terror charges, some of whom are Egyptians.
        While Tehran was declaring its desire to normalize relations with Egypt, the Gaza crossing-points crisis broke out, causing an initial embarrassing confrontation between Egypt and the Palestinians. This has led to the view that the border-crossing crisis was a form of pressure on Egypt, at the domestic and regional levels, more than a tool of pressure on Israel. (Dar Al-Hayat-Lebanon)
  • Still Trying to Squeeze Iran - Adam Zagorin
    A new UN Security Council resolution punishing Iran for its failure to cease uranium enrichment remains weeks away, despite agreement between the five permanent Council members plus Germany. The news that U.S. intelligence believes Iran currently has no active nuclear weapons program undermined the case for urgency claimed by the Bush Administration.
        Several months ago, the U.S. banned all dealings with three of Iran's largest financial institutions, claiming they were facilitating terrorism and supporting weapons proliferation. "Iran is having a much harder time financing its trade - whether that's difficulty in obtaining letters of credit or establishing correspondent accounts abroad," said Adam Szubin, Director of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control. "Gradually, it's becoming more difficult for Iranian companies to do business, whether it's in the financial sector or industry and the great majority of reputable banks around the world are exhibiting much more care in dealing with Iran today than even a year ago."
        Last year, the OECD raised its risk rating on Iran, as export credits from countries such as Germany, France and Japan fell off sharply, which also pinched Iran's ability to import. A number of leading European banks have cut ties with Iran or are limiting their Iranian operations. But there's only so much that U.S. and allied pressure can achieve, and more than 18 months after the first UN sanctions were imposed, Iran's foreign currency reserves are high, largely the result of high oil revenues. (TIME)
  • Observations:

    Strategic Implications for Israel of the Gaza-Egypt Border Opening - Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror and Dan Diker (Institute for Contemporary Affairs/ Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

    • Some had hoped that pressuring Hamas in Gaza via sanctions, while helping to create a stable and prosperous Palestinian society in the West Bank under Mahmoud Abbas, would trigger support for Abbas' leadership in Gaza. However, Hamas, via Gaza's new-found access to Egyptian materials, goods, and services, can now ease Gaza's depressed condition and diminish the differences between Gaza and the more prosperous West Bank.
    • For the first time in the history of the modern Middle East, Hamas - the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ideological cousin of al-Qaeda - has gained full control over contiguous territory and population, and has now effectively become a state government without real opponents.
    • In sharp contrast to Fatah's yet unfulfilled promises, the Palestinian public sees Hamas' dramatic opening of the Gaza-Egypt border as the latest in a series of successful actions. Others include Hamas' surprise January 2006 electoral victory over Fatah, its kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the sustained rocketing of southern Israel, and Hamas' expulsion of Fatah forces from Gaza and the establishment of its control over the government there in June 2007.
    • Terrorist operatives and groups such as al-Qaeda, that have already used Egyptian Sinai as a rear base, can now reach Gaza without interference. Gaza has transformed from its prior status as part of the Palestinian Authority to its new role as a mini-state that is now an integral part of the Arab world. Hamas will now be able to obtain weapons, ammunition, explosives, and training more freely via Egyptian Sinai. Since the border opening, weapons have flowed unimpeded into Gaza, enabling the transfer of higher-grade weapons such as anti-aircraft missiles.
    • Al-Qaeda operatives already infiltrated the Gaza Strip from Egypt, Sudan, and Yemen back in 2006. After the breach of the Egyptian-Gaza border, many Palestinians trained in Syria and Iran easily returned to Gaza. With the open flow of Palestinians into Sinai, there are also increased prospects for attacks against Israeli targets by terrorists infiltrating across Israel's long border with Sinai. If Egypt is forced to take responsibility for Gaza, Israel will have to more carefully weigh its military responses to Hamas terror actions originating from the Strip.

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