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December 22, 2008

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In-Depth Issues:

Russia Denies Supplying Iran with Advanced Anti-Aircraft Missiles - Barak Ravid (Ha'aretz)
    Russia reassured Israel on Sunday that it stands by its commitment not to supply Iran with advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles.
    Pyotr Stegny, the Russian ambassador to Israel, told top Israeli officials that Russia was not planning to advance the missile deal with Iran and had not yet begun to deliver the missiles.
    Russia's RIA news agency last week quoted "confidential sources" as saying that Russia was fulfilling terms of an S-300 contract with Iran, and the official news agency of Iran, IRNA, reported on Sunday that Russia was supplying it with the missiles.

Meet the Hamas Military Leadership - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Ahmed Ja'abri is believed to be the Hamas "chief of staff," replacing arch-terrorist Muhammad Deif. Ja'abri is credited with the current Hamas build-up and is believed to be far more extreme than its political echelon.
    The Palestinians in Gaza have an army of close to 20,000 armed men, among them at least 15,000 Hamas operatives. The rest are from Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Popular Resistance Committees.
    IDF officers like to say that Israel can conquer the entire Gaza Strip within days. The difficult part is holding on to the territory against Hamas guerrilla warfare.

A Middle East Arms Race - Editorial (Wall Street Journal)
    When Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president-for-life, warned last week that "the Persians are trying to devour the Arab states," it's worth paying attention.
    States like Egypt and Saudi Arabia calculate that the U.S. lacks the will to prevent a nuclear Iran. Little wonder, then, that the Arab states are taking a keen interest in acquiring nuclear capabilities of their own.
    The threat of Iran's nuclear programs lies not only in whether it will acquire a bomb. It's also a question of how Iran's neighbors will react.
    A Middle East in which Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt have the bomb is possible within a decade.
    This is a recipe for global instability, if not catastrophe, and a reminder of why no one should be complacent at the looming prospect of an Iranian bomb.

Arab Cartoons Use Anti-Semitic Images - Ian Black (Guardian-UK)
    A display of "Cartoons and Extremism: Israel and the Jews in Arab and Western Media" is being shown at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London.
    While Egypt now accepts that Israel is a permanent fixture in the Middle East, some of the nastiest of these images come from Egypt, where hostility to Israel remains strong despite three decades of formal peace.
    In 2001, a cartoon in the state-owned Al-Ahram depicted exultant Israelis toasting peace with Palestinian blood - a recurrent theme with an ancient and blatantly racist echo.
    Cartoons from Iran are a recent addition to this grim gallery, and often feature Holocaust denial and the equation of Zionism with Nazism.
    View Ten of the Cartoons (Guardian-UK)

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Israel Warns of Gaza Rockets that Can Reach Beersheba - Mark Lavie
    Israel's top security official warned Sunday that Gaza militants can hit more Israeli cities with longer-range rockets. Yuval Diskin, the head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), warned Israel's Cabinet that Gaza's Hamas rulers now have rockets that can reach the city of Ashdod and even the outskirts of Beersheba, 30 miles (50 km.) to the east. In a barrage of 19 Palestinian rockets and three mortars fired at Israel on Sunday, one rocket scored a direct hit on a house in Sderot. "In order to return to a calm like six months ago, we will probably need a wide-scale operation," Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned the Cabinet. (AP)
        See also Map: The Increasing Range of Palestinian High-Trajectory Fire Against Israeli Cities and Towns (Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
        See also Israel Files UN Complaint over Palestinian Rocket Fire - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Israel won't be held hostage by Hamas, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Prof. Gabriela Shalev said Sunday in a harsh letter of complaint to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and to the Security Council president following the intensification in Palestinian rocket fire directed at Israel from Gaza. Israel views Hamas as solely responsible for the escalation in the region and Israel maintains the right to defend its citizens in accordance with the UN Treaty, she wrote. (Ynet News)
  • Venezuela Helping Iran Smuggle Missile Parts to Syria
    Iran is using its warm relations with Venezuela to dodge UN sanctions and use Venezuelan aircraft to ship missile parts to Syria, an Italian newspaper reported Sunday. Citing U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies, La Stampa said Iran is using aircraft from Venezuelan airline Conviasa to transport computers and engine components to Syria for use in missiles. In return, Iran has made available members of its Revolutionary Guards and the elite Al-Quds unit to train the Venezuelan police and secret services. (AFP)
  • Iran Shuts Down Human Rights Center - Thomas Erdbrink
    Iranian authorities on Sunday closed the office of the country's main human rights organization, the Center for the Defense of Human Rights, headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi. A UN resolution issued Thursday expressed "deep concern" about the human rights situation in Iran. An Iranian Interior Ministry commission said the center was carrying out illegal activities, such as publishing statements, writing letters to international organizations and holding news conferences. (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel to Respond to Gaza Rocket Fire - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff
    The rocket barrages on communities near Gaza since the official end of the cease-fire on Friday have led Israel to officially change its line from "quiet in exchange for quiet" to open threats. Israel will respond to the continuing Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza. Meanwhile, a number of Hamas leaders have gone underground out of fear of targeted interception by Israel. (Ha'aretz)
  • Syria Says It Won't Restrain Arming of Hizbullah - Barak Ravid
    Syrian President Bashar Assad has told European foreign ministers and senior diplomats this month that he would not lift a finger to restrain Hizbullah's arming in Lebanon. The future of Syria's relations with Iran and Hizbullah is one of the main subjects Israel has raised in its indirect negotiations with Syria. Assad's remarks show no willingness for a concession to Israel on this issue, let alone an overall change of policy. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Report: Damascus Prefers to Wait for New Israeli Government
    Syria has reportedly postponed a proposal to renew Turkey-brokered indirect talks with Israel. According to the Qatari daily al-Watan, Arab sources in Syria were quoted as saying that Damascus prefers to wait until after President-elect Obama's inauguration and the establishment of a new Israeli government after the Feb. 10 general elections. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Let Russia Stop Iran - Oded Eran, Giora Eiland and Emily Landau
    Western intelligence estimates that Iran will be in a position to create a working nuclear weapon no later than mid-2010. Without tougher sanctions, there is no hope that Iran will reconsider its determination to make a bomb. The key to a tougher Security Council resolution is Russia, and this provides an opening for Barack Obama. After taking office, he should offer Moscow a grand bargain. For its part, the U.S. would suspend or even cancel its plans to set up the missile defenses in Eastern Europe that the Kremlin adamantly opposes, and also adopt a more cautious stance on admitting into NATO the countries that Russia views as part of its zone of influence.
        Russia's side of the bargain would be to join in the West's tougher stance against Iran's nuclear military program and to stop supplying Iran with conventional weapons, many of which then find their way to Hizbullah in Lebanon and other militant groups in the region. Oded Eran is the director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. Maj.-Gen. (ret.) Giora Eiland and Emily B. Landau are senior research associates at the institute. (New York Times)
  • Iran Is a Threat, Not Israel - Tariq Alhomayed
    Last week in New York, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany agreed to continue discussions with the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq on the Iranian nuclear file. The West understands the fears of regional countries with regards to Iranian interference in their internal affairs, not to mention their fears of Iran's insistence on playing a role in regional security.
        Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons is a serious threat to our region, not Israel. If the West fears the missiles that Iran claims it is developing, then we fear the Iranian bombs that are planted among us. The simplest example of this lies in last Friday's demonstrations in Bahrain. When Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah called for demonstrations in support of the people of Gaza, some Bahrainis took to the streets and even pelted security officers with stones. What happened in Bahrain was a demonstration of power by the high-commissioner of Iran in our region, Hassan Nasrallah. (Asharq Alawsat-UK)
  • Lebanon's Choice: Side with the West or Iran - Amir Taheri
    Rival powers are pouring vast sums of money into Lebanon in the hope of influencing the general election to be held this spring. The Khomeinist regime in Tehran is showering its various agents, clients and allies with "more money than they could use," says a former Lebanese army officer. Indeed, "the Iranians have decided to buy enough votes to secure a majority in the next parliament and form the future government." The biggest recipient of Iran's largesse is Hizbullah, that Tehran controls through some 500 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and numerous theological and political "commissars."
        Inside the Maronite Christian community, the faction led by ex-Gen. Michel Aoun sides with Iran and is running on a militant anti-Western platform. If the Aounites win, an Iranian-led anti-Western coalition will have the seats to form a government and Lebanon would become the frontline of the war that Iran wants to wage to "wipe Israel off the map." (New York Post)
  • Observations:

    The Syrian Strategy - Danielle Pletka (New York Times)

    • Washington is abuzz with talk of a "strategic realignment" that would split Syria from Iran and upend the status quo in the Middle East. But is it a real possibility, or foreign policy alchemy?
    • On its face, the notion seems crazy. Syria has been nothing but trouble for years - funneling killers into Iraq to oppose coalition forces, assassinating its opponents in Lebanon, arming Hizbullah to attack Israel, and starting a nuclear weapons program with help from North Korea. Nor does Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, seem cut out for the role of a 21st-century Anwar Sadat. Insecure in his own palace, erratic in his statements and crude in his stewardship, Assad seems more likely to be the victim of a coup than a champion of peace.
    • Nonetheless, the foreign-policy establishment in Washington has come up with a framework to bring him back into the diplomatic fold. It would involve returning the American ambassador (who was recalled from Damascus after the 2005 assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri); ratcheting up American involvement in the Syria-Israel peace talks being mediated by Turkey; requesting that Syrian security forces take part in patrols with Iraqi forces along their border; abandoning efforts to pursue a UN tribunal on the Hariri murder; and directly engaging Iran on a new diplomatic track.
    • Unfortunately, the reality is more complicated. From the day Colin Powell started at the State Department in 2001, American officials have tried to coax, cajole and, as a last resort, threaten Syria into better behavior; all entreaties have met with rejection. President Bill Clinton's first secretary of state, Warren Christopher, traveled more than 20 times to Damascus.
    • Assad, a member of a mistrusted Alawite minority, can maintain his grip on power only as long as he is seen as a vital instrument of Israel's defeat. A new Middle East would mean the end of Assad, which is why he will always turn back to Iran, and why the road to peace in the Middle East will never run through Damascus.

      The writer is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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