Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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March 10, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Israel Reduces Activity in Gaza in Response to Drop in Palestinian Rocket Fire - Laurie Copans (AP)
    Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has instructed the army to halt air strikes and raids into Gaza in response to a serious drop in rocket fire, officials in his office said Monday.
    Israeli defense officials and the Hamas rulers of Gaza said there was no formal truce in place, but officials in Olmert's office said the prime minister had ordered the army to scale back its operations to allow Egypt to proceed in mediation talks.
    The army said Palestinians fired two rockets at Israel from Gaza on Sunday, down from a daily average of more than a dozen the previous week.

Who Makes the Decisions Inside Hamas? - Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel (Ha'aretz)
    IDF sources say that the person who really makes the decisions in Hamas has for some time not been Ismail Haniyeh, nor even Khaled Meshal, the group's politburo chief in Damascus.
    They say that Ahmed Jabari, the head of the military wing of the group, rules.
    Jabari is the one who led the breach of the border wall at the Philadelphi route in Rafah late in January, in spite of reservations from Meshal.

Arab Leaders, Angry at Syrian President, Threaten Boycott of Summit Meeting - Robert F. Worth (New York Times)
    Several Arab leaders say they may boycott the annual Arab summit meeting scheduled for this month in Damascus because of anger at Syria over its role in Lebanon and its continuing links to Iran.
    "There's a new initiative to completely isolate Syria and weaken its destructive influence in Lebanon," said an adviser to the Saudi government.
    "We're not going to pull them away from Iran by talking to them. We're going to take them away from Iran by making them feel the pressure and making them understand that this time it's as real as it can get."
    Officials of Saudi Arabia and Egypt - with Jordan on board - complain that Syria was deliberately prolonging the political vacuum in Lebanon, which has been without a president since November.

The Merchant of Death - Mitchell Prothero (Observer-UK)
    Last week, Viktor Bout, the world's biggest arms dealer, was arrested by Thai authorities on suspicion of attempting to ship arms to Farc rebels in Colombia.
    The 2006 war between Israel and Hizbullah was three days old when American intelligence spotted Bout, a bear-sized man with a moustache, meeting high-ranking Hizbullah officials in a safe house just outside Beirut.
    Those officials, it is now widely believed, were, in all probability, meeting the man who apparently supplied them with their hi-tech weapons.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Hamas Leader Admits Hundreds of Fighters Have Traveled to Tehran - Marie Colvin
    Israel has long insisted that Iran is behind the training of Hamas forces in Gaza. Last week Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet, said as much when he claimed that Hamas had "started to dispatch people to Iran, tens and a promise of hundreds." A senior Hamas commander confirmed for the first time that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been training its men in Tehran for more than two years and is currently honing the skills of 150 fighters. The details he gave suggested that, if anything, Shin Bet has underestimated the extent of Iran's influence on Hamas' increasingly sophisticated tactics and weaponry.
        The commander said Hamas had been sending fighters to Iran for training in both field tactics and weapons technology since Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Others go to Syria for more basic training. "We have sent seven 'courses' of our fighters to Iran," he said. They first traveled to Egypt, flew to Syria, and then to Tehran. According to the commander, a further 650 Hamas fighters have trained in Syria under instructors who learned their techniques in Iran. Sixty-two are in Syria now. He said the Hamas military, which numbers about 15,000 fighters, was modeling itself on Hizbullah. (Sunday Times-UK)
  • Showdown on Palestinian Funding? - Joel Mowbray
    A showdown could be looming between Congress and the Bush administration over a $150 million emergency aid package for the Palestinian Authority government. At issue is whether or not Mahmoud Abbas has either the capacity or desire to bring Palestinians closer to a peace deal with Israel, and it was his own words that triggered congressional wrath. In an interview with the Jordanian newspaper Al-Dastur last week, Abbas spoke with pride of violence he had waged in his past, suggested that terrorism could start anew in the future, and essentially backed away from repeated statements that he "recognizes" Israel's right to exist. A top congressional appropriator, Foreign Operations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, said flatly, "Abbas' recent statements cast doubt on his willingness to take the steps necessary for peace with Israel."  (Washington Times)
        See also Official PA Daily: Killer of Eight Young Men Is Holy Martyr - Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook
    Mahmoud Abbas' official PA daily newspaper has honored the killer of the eight students gunned down this week with the status of Shahid - Holy Islamic Martyr. Al Hayat Al Jadida prominently placed a picture of the killer on the front page, with the caption, "The Shahid Alaa Abu D'heim." In a page one story, his act is defined as a "Shahada-achieving" action. This honoring of terror and terrorists by the PA has significant financial ramifications. In response to earlier PMW reports on the widespread Palestinian honoring of terror, Congress made it illegal for the U.S. to give money to entities that "advocate" terror. (Palestinian Media Watch)
  • Admiral Criticizes Iran's Role in Iraq - Borzou Daragahi
    At a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for American forces in Iraq, described new details of allegations that Iran is meddling in Iraq, accusing the Islamic Republic of training Iraqi operatives to direct militants in their homeland. He said U.S. troops recently discovered a cache of weapons south of Baghdad with markings indicating the arms had been made recently in Iran. He also alleged that Iran had been recruiting Iraqis for training in Iran, citing statements by Iraqi detainees. "Groups and elements," including Iranians and militants attached to Lebanon's Hizbullah militia, were training Iraqis in Iran to act as recruiters and trainers in Iraq, Smith said. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Ahmadinejad's Iraq Debacle - Amir Taheri
    Ahmadinejad's two-day state visit to Iraq last week showed the limits of Iranian influence in that country. Iranian emissaries and pro-Iran elements in Iraq were supposed to ensure massive crowds thronging the streets of Baghdad and throwing flowers on the path of the visiting Iranian leader. Instead, crowds gathered to protest Ahmadinejad's visit. A good part of the Iraqi political elite, including cabinet ministers and members of the parliament, boycotted functions held in his honor. Ahmadinejad had come to Iraq to show it was an Iranian playground. He ended up by showing that Iran's influence in Iraq is widely exaggerated. Few Iraqis wish to see their country dominated by the Khomeinist regime in Tehran. (New York Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel to U.S.: Conditions Not Ripe for Forming Palestinian State - Barak Ravid
    Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday told visiting U.S. envoy James Jones that, "The creation of a Palestinian state is not the required answer to Israel's security needs." She said a future Palestinian state must comprise officials "who want not only to live in peace with Israel, but are also able to fight terror." The foreign minister will visit the U.S. this week for talks. (Ha'aretz)
  • Fatah Group Hails "Heroic" Jerusalem Attack - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, on Sunday welcomed the killing of the eight yeshiva students in Jerusalem and lashed out at Mahmoud Abbas for condemning the shooting attack. In a statement issued in Ramallah, the group, which was reportedly dismantled several months ago, also called on Abbas not to resume peace talks with Israel and to halt security coordination with Israel. The Aksa Martyrs Brigades described the attack as an "heroic" operation and called for carrying out more attacks against Israel. The group urged Abbas to release all Aksa Martyrs Brigades gunmen being held in PA security installations in the West Bank and hand them back their weapons so they could resume their attacks on Israel. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Soldier Hurt in Gaza Explosion Dies
    Sergeant Liran Banai, 20, who was critically wounded in an explosion near central Gaza last Thursday, died of his wounds in Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center Sunday. Palestinians detonated an explosive device near an IDF jeep driven by Banai that was patrolling near the Kissufim crossing. An IDF Bedouin tracker was killed in the same incident. (Ynet News)
        See also IDF to Patrol Gaza Border Using Unmanned Jeeps
    The Israel Defense Forces plans to deploy unmanned jeeps this summer along the security fence with Gaza, replacing many manned vehicles. While pilotless drones are already common in the Israel Air Force, this is the first time a driverless jeep, developed jointly by Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries, will be used by the army's ground forces. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Killings Cannot Dim Israel's Respect for Life - Ron Prosor
    Eight Israeli Torah students were gunned down in Jerusalem last Thursday. The world cannot make allowances for such an act. It was cold-blooded murder and must be condemned, unconditionally and with no excuses. The international community must not be manipulated into arming murderers with credibility.
        Israel, as a democracy under fire, is facing a daily terrorist threat from extremists who celebrate death, despise democracy and seek Israel's destruction. These extremists target Israeli civilians as a strategy, the product of a mindset that values death at all costs. It is the mindset that leads a man to unload an AK-47 at point blank range into children studying in a library. It is a disturbed mindset that allows a Hamas spokesman to describe that massacre as "the heroic operation in Jerusalem." The writer is Israel's ambassador to the UK. (Telegraph-UK)
        See also Edinburgh U. Cancels Prosor's Talk After Pro-Palestinian Protest - Jonny Paul (Jerusalem Post)
  • Palestinian Celebration of Murder Dooms Hope for Peace - Michael Goodwin
    After an Arab gunman went on a rampage at a Jewish religious school in Jerusalem, we saw pictures of Palestinians celebrating the massacre. They shouted jubilantly from cars and danced in the streets of Gaza. Men fired bursts of automatic weapons skyward. Every society has its madmen, its gangsters and killers. But in functioning societies, they are shunned and punished as an example of how not to behave. Not so in Palestinian society or in too much of the Muslim world. Celebrations of death, as they did Thursday, soon become odes to martyrs. In less than a day, pictures of the lone gunman in the massacre appeared on posters glorifying his death. Behind his clean-shaven, ordinary face were a mosque and messages of heroic defiance. (New York Daily News)
  • Observations:

    Islamists Leave Israel No Choice - Greg Sheridan (The Australian)

    • After the attack in Jerusalem on a Jewish religious school in which eight civilians died, Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack. On the other hand, Hamas, the Palestinian leadership in Gaza, praised the attack and Gazan civilians danced in the streets with joy. Hamas' strategy is difficult for the Western mind to grasp because of two elements: its genuinely religious foundation, and its willingness to inflict any suffering not only on its enemies but on its own people.
    • It is inconceivable that any nation would allow endless rocket attacks on its civilians without trying to stop them. Rockets fired simultaneously from Gaza, southern Lebanon, and the West Bank would completely paralyze Israel. Therefore, Israel ultimately cannot allow the rocket attacks to go on, especially as they increase in lethality and range.
    • The ABC's "Lateline" program ran a report on the suffering of civilians in Gaza, interviewing a Gazan civilian who complained bitterly about Israel's actions. But the ABC reporter didn't ask the absolutely obvious question: Do you wish your leaders would stop firing missiles into Israel, which make inevitable both the economic blockade and the Israeli military response?
    • Israel is always told to retreat to the 1967 borders. The two places where it has done this - southern Lebanon and Gaza - have been disasters for Israel and have not produced peace. The 1967 borders only work for Israel if its neighbors don't make war on Israel any more. There is no indication at all that either Hamas or Hizbullah, or indeed Iran, which soon enough will possess nuclear weapons, is on a trajectory towards accepting Israel's right to exist.

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