Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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October 20, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Hamas Hardens Grip on Gaza - Karin Laub (AP/Washington Post)
    Hamas' control of Gaza is now virtually complete. Since the summer, the Islamic militants have silenced and disarmed their remaining opponents, and filled the bureaucracy with their supporters.
    Hamas now controls every aspect of daily life, from screening visitors at a new border checkpoint to running what the International Crisis Group described as a network of paid and volunteer informers.
    With nothing in sight to weaken Hamas' grip, the political split between Gaza and the West Bank - the two territories meant to make up a future Palestinian state - looks increasingly irreversible and is one of the main obstacles to U.S. efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

Israel to Begin Drilling for Natural Gas in Mediterranean (Reuters)
    A consortium of Israeli companies and Noble Energy of the U.S. said on Sunday they will soon begin drilling for natural gas off Israel's Mediterranean coast at a cost of $144.5 million.
    The Tamar 1 drilling site is located 90 km. west of Haifa. Noble estimates there is a 35% chance of finding natural gas, in the amount of 1 billion cubic meters.

Sunnis and Shiites Wage Online War - Ellen Knickmeyer (Washington Post)
    Four of the five main online forums that al-Qaeda uses to distribute statements by Osama bin Laden and other extremists have been disabled since Sept. 10.
    At the same time, Shiite and Sunni hackers have targeted Web sites associated with the other sect, including that of a Saudi-owned television network and of Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric.

Canadians Fly Israeli UAV in Afghanistan - David A. Fulghum (Aviation Week)
    The Canadian Air Force has received its first Israel Aerospace Industries-built Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).
    Earlier, the Canadian firm MacDonald Dettwiler and IAI cooperated on a project to test the Heron for civilian missions in Alberta, which lead to the military program.

Gay Palestinian Fears for Life, Seeks Refuge in Israel - Aviad Glickman (Ynet News)
    A 33-year-old gay Palestinian man petitioned Israel's High Court of Justice on Sunday, asking for permanent residency in Israel so that he may continue to live with his partner as he has done for nine years.
    The man, a resident of the West Bank village of Tamon, claimed to fear for his life, since his family refuses to accept his sexual orientation and may try to harm him.

Computer Game Envisions Israel-Iran War in Gaza - Jason Koutsoukis (The Age-Australia)
    Set in Gaza in the year 2040, the Israeli-designed computer game "Rising Eagle - Gaza" simulates an infantry battle between Israel's elite Golani Brigade and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
    Early versions of the game are being downloaded free at the rate of around 1,000 a day, with the formal launch later this month.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Japan Defeats Iran for UN Security Council Seat
    Japan defeated Iran for a nonpermanent Asian seat on the UN Security Council by 158 to 32 in secret-ballot voting Friday. (AP/Los Angeles Times)
  • Documents Say Iran Aids Militias from Iraq - Mark Mazzetti
    For the past several years, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force and Lebanese Hizbullah have trained Iraqi Shiites to launch attacks against American forces in Iraq, according to accounts given to American interrogators by captured Iraqi fighters. Now, more than 80 pages of newly declassified intelligence documents for the first time describe in detail an elaborate network used by Iraqis to gain entry into Iran and train under Iranian supervision. Brian Fishman, director of research at the Combating Terrorism Center and a co-author of a new study about Iran's political and military influence in Iraq, concludes that Iran aims to attack American troops in Iraq to "demonstrate a credible deterrent against a U.S. strike on Iran's nuclear facilities."
        Some prisoners told American interrogators that a separate training course run by Hizbullah in Lebanon was far superior to the training in Iran. To get to the training course in Lebanon, Iraqis were taken to an airport in Iran, where they flew to Damascus and then were driven to the Lebanese border. In Lebanon, they said they participated in training, led by Hizbullah operatives, in "weapons inventory control," "project planning" and communications. (New York Times)
        See also Why Iran Is Cooling Off - Mark Hosenball
    The level of violence attributable to Iranian-backed insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan is falling. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell says the trend dates back to last spring when, after a crackdown, Iranian-supported insurgents (known as "special groups") fled into Iran. Still, according to one U.S. counterterrorism official, some Iraqi militants are still actively being trained inside Iran for attacks on U.S. forces. (Newsweek)
  • Hizbullah Basks in Its Authority - Lionel Barber and Roula Khalaf
    Labor Minister Mohammed Fneish, the most senior Hizbullah figure in the Lebanese government, is unapologetic about the challenge that the group - whose militant wing is stronger than the national army - poses to the state. "Is it sacred that the army is the only force that can carry weapons? If society approves that you can have the official army and then you can have another popular force that works alongside it, then what is the problem?" he asks. No one is expecting Hizbullah's disarmament any time soon. (Financial Times-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Dismisses Saudi Peace Plan Revival - Herb Keinon
    Senior Jerusalem officials dismissed on Sunday a sudden surge of interest in the Arab Peace Initiative. "Whenever the process stalls, there will be those who will pull out the Saudi plan," one senior official said. "And the Saudis have an interest in pushing this out there now, to put on a 'constructive face' with which to greet the new U.S. president." The Arab Peace Initiative, based on the Saudi peace plan of February 2002, calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from all territories taken in the Six-Day War, including eastern Jerusalem, in exchange for normalizing ties with the Arab world. It also calls for the return to Israel of Palestinian refugees and their descendents. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Acre Riots' Instigator Flees to West Bank - Ahiya Raved
    Acre Mayor Shimon Lankry said Sunday that "the man who announced at the city's mosques that there were [Arab] people injured in the city's eastern [Jewish] neighborhoods, thereby igniting the riots on Yom Kippur eve, has fled to the territories." Lankry noted that another man, suspected of driving Arab youths from Acre's Old City to the eastern neighborhood, had also fled the police. More than 100 vehicles, 80 stores and 30 homes were damaged during the riots, and five houses were burned to the ground. (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian Hurls Firebomb at Israeli Vehicle in West Bank, One Israeli Hurt - Yuval Azoulay
    An Israeli citizen was wounded on Sunday when a firebomb was thrown at his car in the West Bank near Barkan. The man's family, who were with him in the car, were unhurt in the attack. Earlier Sunday, Palestinians hurled six firebombs at Israeli drivers in two separate incidents near Nablus. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Self-Induced Nakba - Philip Carl Salzman
    Palestinians and their partisans explain their unfortunate situation as a result of Western imperialism and colonialism. Yet there is a certain inconsistency in the Arab and Muslim narrative about imperialism and colonialism. About the period of the 7th to the 18th centuries, when the Arab Muslim Empire spread by the sword from Arabia across all of the Middle East and North Africa to Morocco in the west, to Sicily, Portugal, Spain, and France in the north, and to Central Asia and India in the East, followed by Ottoman conquests in Europe, the narrative of imperialism and colonialism is triumphalist. Endless slaughter, forced conversion, slavery, and wholesale expropriation of property were all good, because God chose Muslims as his True Followers and, as such, they have a right - no, a duty - to dominate.
        The Arabs in 1948 refused compromise with inferiors; they refused to divide and share, rejecting a UN settlement. Instead, they strove for complete victory, as their ancestors had. However, the Jews they faced did not cower; against the odds, and with little outside help, they fought and won. The "Nakba" was self-induced by the Arabs. They demanded all or nothing, and got nothing. The writer is professor of anthropology at McGill University. (History News Network/Sandbox)
  • New Approaches to Halt Iran's Nuclear Program - Bennett Ramberg
    The West cannot buy the mullahs off. The time has come to explore another approach, one that challenges the values that sustain Iran's atomic ambitions. For the mullahs, one value dominates - preservation of the theocratic regime. In this view a nuclear Iran provides security, international influence, and prestige while buttressing popular support. Iran's values, however, can become the West's sword.
        Consider a kaleidoscope of alternatives, including sowing nuclear fear. Use public diplomacy to cultivate popular fear that nuclear plants are radiological hostages to terrorist malevolence, military attacks and accidents. In addition, promote national security foreboding. The mullahs appear to believe that nuclear weapons, or the breakout capacity to develop them, advance national security. Impress upon them that the tack will make the regime less secure. Iran will become an American and Israeli nuclear bulls-eye in this era of preemption. Reinforce this point with a U.S./NATO security guarantee to Israel: A nuclear attack on the Jewish state will result in Iran's extinction. The writer served in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the State Department in the George H.W. Bush administration. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Religious Cleansing in the Muslim Middle East - Editorial
    The religious cleansing of Christians in Iraq is part of a larger pattern in which a faith with origins in the Middle East is being driven out of its native region. From Iraq to Lebanon, which once claimed a Christian majority, to Bethlehem, the West Bank town revered as the birthplace of Jesus, intra-Muslim violence and the Arab-Israeli struggle have combined to persuade (and in some cases force) Christians to relocate to Europe or North America.
        This is a tragedy not only for Christianity but also for the long-term goal of ensuring Middle Eastern societies that are pluralist as well as democratic. Yet Christians in the Middle East haven't always promoted such virtues. Maronite Catholics in Lebanon sought to deny Muslims a proportionate role in the governance of that country, and some Arab Christian leaders have been outspokenly anti-Israel. That attitude was reflected in the opposition of Arab bishops to a Vatican Council declaration absolving Jews of collective responsibility for the death of Jesus. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Observations:

    Iran's Economy Runs Out of Steam - Michael Rubin (Forbes)

    • Ahmadinejad has run Iran's economy into the ground as the Islamic Republic reverts to a Soviet-style command economy. On Oct. 11, the Central Bank reported inflation above 30%. Non-oil sector production is stagnant. Purchasing power has plummeted. Factories may remain open but many do not pay workers. On Oct. 2, tire factory workers staged a protest in front of the Ministry of Labor seeking six months' unpaid wages. In recent weeks, wildcat strikes have occurred in Tehran, Isfahan, Qazvin and Sanandaj.
    • Ahmadinejad's arbitrary decree lowering interest rates to single digits, no-interest banking, and inflation have led wealthy Iranians to pour money into real estate. Housing costs have skyrocketed; Tehran real estate prices rival New York's. The average Iranian family now pays 60% of its income for rent, while the Ministry of Housing estimates 1.5 million Iranians are homeless.
    • Iran's strategic challenge and nuclear ambitions will be the most immediate foreign policy challenge facing the new administration. The National Iranian American Council, Tehran's de facto lobby in Washington, urges a relaxation of sanctions. So too does the Council on Foreign Relations. Condoleezza Rice offers a defiant Tehran financial incentives.
    • Such strategies are wrong. Throwing an economic lifeline to a terror-sponsoring regime dedicated to the acquisition of nuclear weapons capability would be nothing short of diplomatic malpractice.

      The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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