Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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April 3, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Al-Qaeda Deputy: UN Enemy of Islam - Jihadi Influence to Spread (Aljazeera-Qatar)
    Al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, in a new online audio recording, said, "The United Nations is an enemy of Islam and Muslims. It is the one which codified and legitimized the setting up of the State of Israel."
    The UN agreed to the presence of "crusaders" in Afghanistan and Iraq and had approved the separation of East Timor from Indonesia, he said, yet "it doesn't recognize that [right] for Chechnya, nor for all the Muslim Caucasus, nor for Kashmir, nor for Ceuta and Melilla [Spanish enclaves in North Africa], nor for Bosnia."
    "I expect the jihadi influence to spread after the Americans' exit from Iraq, and to move towards Jerusalem," he said to those asking when attacks on Israel would take place.
    He also predicted the end of the Saudi state, which is "swimming against the tide of history" and the government of his native Egypt, which he called a "corrupt, rotten regime [that] cannot possibly continue."

Israel: Reports of Syrian Reserve Call-Up "Incorrect" (Jerusalem Post)
    The Israel Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau head, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, believes that Israel is not facing a new eruption of war on its northern front.
    Gilad said "the overseas publication of the fact that three Syrian divisions were called up is incorrect."
    "Syria isn't interested in attacking Israel, and vice versa," he added.

New York Targets Insurance Firms that Discriminate Against Israel Travelers - Paul Tharp (New York Post)
    New York's insurance regulator, Eric Dinallo, is trying to sway insurers across the U.S. to halt their controversial practice of denying life insurance to people traveling to Israel.
    Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was denied life insurance by AIG just because she checked a box on a life policy application that she "might" visit Israel someday.
    Israel's intentional-death rate is 11 per 1,000 people, while the U.S. rate is 54% higher at 17 per 1,000, said industry data.
    "On that basis, Israel is safer than America," said Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Schultz.

Australian Foreign Minister Rules Out Hamas Dialogue (The Australian)
    The Australian government has officially ruled out any support for a dialogue with the militant Palestinian Islamic group Hamas.
    At a news conference in Canberra Wednesday, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Hamas has been classified as a terrorist organization by Australia since 2003.

Eight Men Accused of Plotting to Down U.S. Airliners Face Trial in UK (AP/International Herald Tribune)
    Jury selection began Wednesday for the trial of eight British men accused of planning to bomb airliners bound for the U.S. and Canada in 2006 in order to kill hundreds of passengers in a major terrorism plot.

Key Links 
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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Saudi Arabia Is Prime Source of Terror Funds, U.S. Says - Josh Meyer
    Saudi Arabia remains the world's leading source of money for al-Qaeda and other extremist networks and has failed to take key steps requested by U.S. officials to stem the flow, the Bush administration's top financial counter-terrorism official, Stuart A. Levey, told a Senate committee Tuesday. "Saudi Arabia today remains the location where more money is going to terrorism, to Sunni terror groups and to the Taliban than any other place in the world," Levey said. The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday ordered an independent review of the efforts to choke off financing used by al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Saudi Arabia, Turkey May Join Nuclear Arms Race - Barry Schweid
    Saudi Arabia most likely would develop nuclear weapons if Iran acquires them, according to a report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. American diplomats in Riyadh said an Iranian nuclear weapon frightens the Saudis "to their core." Turkey also would come under pressure to follow suit, said the report. The spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East could reduce regional security and endanger U.S. interests, the report said. (AP)
  • Iran Monitoring IDF Communications from Syrian Listening Stations
    Iran has set up sophisticated listening stations in Syria in recent months to intercept Israeli military communications, according to Israeli security officials. Powerful antennas can pick up communications from a distance of hundreds of kilometers, and Israel is taking new precautions. Iran helped Hizbullah pick up Israeli radio communications during the 2006 war in Lebanon. (AP/International Herald Tribune)
  • Israel to Redistribute Gas Masks Amid Fears of War with Iran - Robert Berger
    Israel's Security Cabinet has decided to redistribute gas masks to the entire population amid fears of a non-conventional war with Iran. Iranian President Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel "off the map" and Iran has ballistic missiles that can hit anywhere in Israel. (VOA News)
  • China Provides UN Nuclear Watchdog with Intelligence on Iran - George Jahn
    China gave the International Atomic Energy Agency intelligence about Iran's nuclear program, two senior diplomats say. The diplomats said China was among a substantial list of nations that have recently forwarded information that could be relevant in attempts to probe past or present nuclear weapons research by Iran. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Iranian 8-Km Mortars Fired from Gaza - Aaron Lerner
    Israel Television Channel 2 correspondent Ronnie Daniel reported that for the first time Iranian 120mm mortars were fired on Tuesday at Israel from Gaza. They can do considerably more damage than Kassam rockets. Many of the protective reinforcements that have been placed in order to shield Israelis from Kassams do not provide protection from these mortars. In addition, the Iranian mortars travel at a speed that makes the warning system meaningless. (IMRA)
  • Egypt-Gaza Border Opening Tuesday May Have Allowed Return of Trained Terrorists - Yaakov Katz
    Senior Israeli defense officials warned on Wednesday that Egypt's opening of the Rafah crossing on Tuesday may have allowed Palestinian terrorists to cross back into Gaza after undergoing terror training abroad. Egyptian officials said they had opened the crossing to allow Egyptians stuck in Gaza for the past two months to return to Egypt. However, Palestinian trucks and vehicles in Sinai were also allowed to return to Gaza, an Egyptian official said. "It is likely that there are terrorists who are using the opening as an opportunity to travel abroad or to return to Gaza," a defense official said. "They are probably returning not empty-handed, but with money and maybe even weaponry."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Steep Drop in Muslim and Arab Fertility Rates - Yoram Ettinger
    The UN Population Division says that the drop in Muslim and Arab fertility rates is the highest in the world. Over 25 years, Iranians have gone from an average of 10 children per woman to 1.8. The number of children per woman in Egypt is 2.5 and is 3 in Jordan. In Israel the fertility rate is 2.8. The annual number of Jewish births in Israel has risen 40% since 1995 (112,455 in 2007 compared to 80,400 in 1995), while the number of Israeli Arab births has steadied at 39,000. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Palestinian Rockets Leave Toll on Israeli Town - Thulasi Srikanthan
    Every morning, Eeki Elner wakes up to the blare of alarms, signaling the approach of missiles from Gaza. Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into the town of 20,000 during the past seven to eight years, killing at least 12 Israelis and injuring hundreds. Elner says the government's hands are tied in one sense because, if Israel retaliates, the international community will say it is being "aggressive."  (Ottawa Citizen)
        See also In Sderot, Terrorism the Rule, Not the Exception - Yedidya Schwartz
    Imagine you live in a small town on the Mexican border. Imagine that every day for the past seven years Mexican desperadoes have been firing crude rockets into your town, indiscriminately hitting schools, medical centers and apartment buildings, with the express objective (which they make clear in the media) of murdering as many American civilians as possible. Years ago, the American army used to make limited forays across the border to try to stop the rockets, but because the desperadoes operate in populated areas, these incursions hurt innocent Mexicans, and international pressure and American public opinion have caused the U.S. government to decide that it is better to just let you put up with the rockets. Imagine this, and you will have a good idea of the situation in the Israel town of Sderot. (Yale Daily News)
  • Muslim Reformer's "Heresy": The Islamic State Is a Dead End - Jane Lampman
    Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim, a professor of law at Emory University, tells his co-religionists that a secular state and human rights are essential for all societies so that Muslims and others can practice their faith freely. "I need the state to be neutral about religious doctrine so that I can be the Muslim I choose to be." He helped organize the first "Muslim Heretics Conference" in Atlanta over the weekend to discuss issues related to sharia (Islamic law), democracy, and women's rights - and how to cope with dissent and its consequences.
        While a law student at the University of Khartoum in 1967, Naim heard a talk by a Sufi Muslim thinker, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha. "That lecture turned my life around," he says, and he joined Taha's Islamic reform movement. But when Sudanese strongman Jaafar al-Nimeiri was about to introduce sharia by decree in 1983, he jailed Taha, Naim, and others for 18 months. Taha was put on trial and executed. The essence of the Sufi's message had been that certain verses in the Koran represented the universal, eternal message of Islam, while others were relevant to a particular historical context and no longer viable. (Christian Science Monitor)
  • The Damascus Arab Summit: Arab Divisions Ensure Modest Achievements - David Schenker
    For many Arab states, Lebanon represents a debate about regional trends - in particular Tehran's growing role in Arab politics, a trend that threatens the long-term stability of "moderate" Arab regimes ostensibly aligned with the West. As such, Syria's profoundly unproductive role in Lebanon and its increasingly close ties with Iran provided the underlying context of last week's Arab League meeting. Damascus had hoped that a successful summit would prove to be another nail in the coffin of U.S.-led efforts to isolate and pressure the Assad regime into changing its behavior. Contrary to Syria's wishes, however, the effective Arab boycott of the summit suggests that many Arab capitals - like Washington - are not ready to accept the re-integration of an Iranian-aligned Damascus into the Arab fold. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Observations:

    Don't Push Hamas to the Table - Michael Young (Washington Post)

    • There is a specter haunting diplomatic groupthink today in the U.S. that holds that where there is a problem, there must be American and international "engagement." A problem with Iran? Engage Iran. With Syria? Engage Syria. Blockage in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations? Well, let's try something different and talk to Hamas.
    • But almost never does anyone think this through. If states engage Hamas today, then they can say goodbye to Fatah and to Mahmoud Abbas. Is that desirable?
    • Negotiating with Hamas will also mean indirectly negotiating with Iran and Syria. Does the international community really want to bargain with Iran and Syria to resolve the Palestinian conflict? Do Damascus and Tehran have any aim other than to use Palestinians to advance their own agendas? Is that dependency where everyone wants to push the Palestinians?
    • Also, what do those engaging Hamas get in exchange for doing so? After all, Hamas would be rewarded by recognition; but what would it be willing to give up?
    • The obvious answer is that Hamas must at least recognize Israel's right to exist, in the same way that the PLO, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan did when the Madrid process began in 1991. To avoid imposing on Hamas the condition of recognition that it imposed on the PLO in the past seems absurd.

      The writer is opinion editor for Lebanon's Daily Star.

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