Prepared for the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
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November 17, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Top Obama Aide Denies Report on Backing Arab Peace Plan (Ha'aretz)
    Dennis Ross, Barack Obama's adviser on Middle East policy, issued a statement Sunday denying reports that Obama plans to back the 2002 Arab peace plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from all territories captured during the 1967 Six-Day War in exchange for normalized ties with the Arab world.
    The British Sunday Times said Obama had expressed this sentiment during his visit to Israel and the PA last July.
    However, Ross said, "I was in the meeting in Ramallah. Then-senator Obama did not say this, the story is false."

Poll: Americans Continue to Back Israel (UPI)
    According to a poll of Americans released Sunday, 66% said the U.S. should back Israel while only 6% said it should support the Palestinians.
    Some 72% agreed that even with U.S. domestic problems, the country must work to prevent a nuclear Iran.
    The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research for The Israel Project.
    See also Only 19% of Americans Think "Making Peace between Israel and the Palestinians" Should Be Among Obama's Top Priorities - Natasha Mozgovaya (Ha'aretz)

New Gaza Jihadist Group Vows Loyalty to Al-Qaeda (MEMRI)
    On Nov. 6, the Islamist forum Al-Fallujah posted two communiques by a new jihadist organization called Jahafil Al-Tawhid Wal-Jihad fi Filastin ("The Armies of Monotheism and Jihad in Palestine").
    The first communique announced the establishment of the organization, and declares that it was vowing loyalty to al-Qaeda, after having "received the messages of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri."

Report: Iranians Train Syrians, Hizbullah to Fight Sunnis (Media Line-Jerusalem Post)
    Iranian Revolutionary Guards have established intelligence cells in Lebanon, comprised of Syrian agents and Hizbullah members, to track down and annihilate extreme Sunni armed cells, the Kuwaiti-based daily A-Siyasa reported.
    "Approximately 200 IRGC agents, who were based in Iraq, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, have arrived in Lebanon via Syria since late July, and began forming cells comprising members of Hizbullah and Amal, as well as Syrian intelligence officers," said a diplomatic source from the Gulf.
    The cells have already begun to operate. Last week several Sunnis were kidnapped and others were killed inside Palestinian refugee camps.

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

  • Israel Urges "Greater Force" vs. Iran Nuclear Work
    Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on Sunday for a stronger international campaign against Iran's nuclear program to "thwart it with greater force." "We must increase our measures to prevent Iran from achieving its devious goals," Olmert told Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. "Iran cannot become nuclear. Israel cannot afford it...the free world must not accept it....We must unite our forces as part of the international community, led by the United States of America. We must confront Iran's malevolent diligence." Olmert called for further sanctions against Iran, saying: "It must become more costly to Iran to pursue nuclear weapons than to give it up."  (Reuters)
  • Talks Yield No New Sanctions Against Iran's Nuclear Program - Borzou Daragahi
    Diplomats said Friday that American, European, Russian and Chinese officials meeting Thursday in Paris had not reached agreement on further steps to pressure Iran to halt uranium enrichment at its facility in Natanz. Meanwhile, a new report says Iran has made significant progress at another facility: a heavy-water research reactor being built near the city of Arak, which could eventually produce plutonium that might be used in a nuclear weapon.
        According to satellite images published by the Institute for Science and International Security, construction at the Arak plant progressed significantly between February and October. The Arak plant could potentially produce about 20 pounds of plutonium a year, enough for two nuclear weapons. Physicists say it is easier to design and build a nuclear weapon using plutonium than one using enriched uranium. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Palestinians Predict End of Gaza Ceasefire
    Omar (not his real name) teaches English at a school for much of the day, but he is also training to be a fighter too. He is part of a movement allied to Hamas which is widely held responsible for the killing, five years ago, of three Americans who were part of a convoy driving into Gaza to offer scholarships to local youngsters. The group also played a part in the raid, by tunnel, into an Israeli army camp near the border, when a young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured and dragged back inside the Gaza Strip. He is still in captivity. The men here say they are itching to attack the Israelis again. "The ceasefire won't last much longer," predicts Omar. (BBC News-UK)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel: Hamas to Blame for Gaza Plight - Roni Sofer
    Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called on the international community on Sunday to make clear to Hamas that it is responsible for the predicament of Gaza's residents. During a meeting with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Livni said: "Israel cannot just sit by and watch as its citizens are attacked....The Israeli government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, and it is the world's responsibility not to turn a blind eye and use all of the means at its disposal to stop terror....Just as Hamas is to blame for the attacks on Israel, the group is also responsible for the situation in Gaza."  (Ynet News)
  • Palestinian Rocket Wounds Israeli in Sderot - Amos Harel, Barak Ravid and Yanir Yagna
    A Kassam rocket fired by Palestinians in Gaza wounded a resident of Sderot on Sunday. Several other people were treated for shock. Some 17 rockets and mortar shells hit Israel over the weekend, including four advanced Grad-type rockets.
        Also on Sunday, the Israel Air Force killed four Palestinian gunmen who were firing mortars into Israel from Gaza. (Ha'aretz)
        See also IDF Video Shows Gaza Gunners Firing Rockets at Israel (Ha'aretz)
        See also Palestinians Fire Eight Rockets at Israel Monday (Jerusalem Post)
  • PA Crackdown Has Reduced Hamas Financial Power in West Bank - Avi Issacharoff
    Since the beginning of the year, the PA has systematically installed new managements at West Bank charities formerly linked to Hamas, transferring the charities' assets to the PA. As a result, Hamas has dramatically reduced its money transfers to these charities. In addition, the PA has appointed its own religious leaders to the Waqf Islamic religious trust, which was previously run by clerics identified with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' parent movement. This change has also forced Hamas to stem the flow of money to charities it once funded. The global economic downturn has also slowed the money flow, as major donors in the Persian Gulf have transferred smaller amounts to Hamas. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Terrorists Wary of Obama's Victory - David Ignatius
    The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States wasn't supposed to happen in al-Qaeda's playbook. Obama makes the jihadists nervous because his ascension undermines the belief that Islam and the West are locked in an inescapable clash of civilizations. The key constituency in this battle of ideas isn't al-Qaeda itself. It's the potential recruits in mosques and madrassas around the world who are assessing which way the wind is blowing. Among this group, there is a new ferment, according to a U.S. intelligence official who monitors jihadist Web sites. He sees curiosity about Obama among Muslim militant groups.
        So here's the challenge for Obama: Seize the moment and transform the intellectual battlefield; keep the military pressure on al-Qaeda's hard core, and remind the world that al-Qaeda's victims have been overwhelmingly Muslim and that its brutal jihad has brought only ruin. (Washington Post)
        See also Obama Could Change Dynamics in the Arab World - Jeffrey Fleishman
    Barack Obama is changing Washington's image from a cowboy with snarling sound bites to a conciliator with star appeal. Obama's is a multicultural face that narrows degrees of separation. Gamal Nkrumah, whose father, Kwame, led Ghana to independence from British rule in 1957, wrote in the Egyptian weekly Al Ahram, "Obama's genius is that he appeals to the well-heeled liberals in Western nations as much as the penniless peasants of impoverished nations, the teeming millions eking out a meager existence." As Muslim moderates seek more openness to democracy and rapprochement with the West, Obama offers a tantalizing message that may inspire them while disarming fundamentalists. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Did the IAEA Find a Smoking Gun in Syria? - Yossi Melman
    The discovery of enriched uranium at the Syrian military site that Israel bombed last year may be the first step toward revealing Syria's smoking gun. This week, International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei will submit a report on Syria's nuclear program that will state that IAEA inspectors discovered traces of enriched uranium at the site. The discovery of uranium now reinforces the onus on the Assad regime, which will be forced to provide comprehensive explanations. (Ha'aretz)
  • Observations:

    Is Hamas Committed to the Ceasefire? - Yoram Cohen (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • Last week, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired around eighty rockets into southern Israel, including the Israeli city of Ashkelon. Considering Hamas' history of violence against Israel, its commitment to the ceasefire is open to serious question.
    • Hamas' primary long-term goal is the liberation of historic Palestine "from the sea to the river" and the foundation of an independent state based on Islamic religious law. This would require the destruction of the State of Israel and control over the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
    • Prior to the recent spasm of violence, Palestinian organizations in Gaza had violated the ceasefire more than forty times by launching rockets and mortar shells and by detonating improvised explosive devices against IDF patrols along the fence separating Israel from Gaza.
    • As expected, Hamas is using the lull to strengthen its military capabilities. Yet its military infrastructure is weak in the West Bank, and it has difficulty executing major attacks inside Israel.
    • Although certain Hamas officials (particularly in the military wing) want to abandon the ceasefire altogether, most of its leaders will most likely continue to emphasize the truce's benefits and maintain the agreement for the near term.
    • Hamas leaders, however, will continue to encourage and assist the group's West Bank elements in executing large-scale attacks inside Israel. Hamas will also threaten or attack senior PA officials who act against the group's infrastructure in the West Bank, in an effort to curb this activity.

      The writer is a visiting fellow at The Washington Institute.

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