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March 6, 2009

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Italy Pulls Out of UN Racism Conference - Ariel David (AP)
    Italy said Thursday it is pulling out of a UN conference on racism seen by many Western governments as marred by Muslim attempts to attack Israel and shield Islam from criticism.
    Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Italy has withdrawn its delegation from the preparatory negotiations ahead of the so-called Durban II conference due to "aggressive and anti-Semitic statements" in the draft of the event's final document.

PA Calls Jerusalem Terror Attack "A Traffic Accident" - Ari Rabinovitch (Reuters-International Herald Tribune)
    A Palestinian driver rammed his bulldozer into a police car, rolling it over until it slammed into a bus at one of Jerusalem's busiest intersections on Thursday before police and a taxi driver shot him dead. An open Koran was found in the driver's cabin.
    Video from a traffic camera showed the bulldozer lowering its front shovel before striking a parked police car. The bulldozer then rolled the vehicle across the intersection, flipping it over and smashing it into a bus. Two officers inside the police car were injured.
    Riyad al-Malki, information minister for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Western-backed government, described the incident as a "traffic accident," and called for an investigation into why the bulldozer driver was shot.

Can Hamas Be Deterred? - Steven Klein (Ha'aretz)
    Hamas has fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israel since the end of the fighting inside Gaza.
    Unilateral deterrence is an inherently unstable relationship. According to scholar Frank Zagare, the more risk-accepting an entity is, the more unrealistic unilateral deterrence becomes.
    Deterrence doesn't work if one or both of the combatants is a national ethnic group contending for power, because violence is their modus operandi for calling attention to and enlisting support for their cause.
    The limited war in Gaza has left Hamas more convinced than ever that it can survive Israel's worst blows.

Terrorist Group Recruits in Midwest - Lolita C. Baldor (AP)
    U.S. counter-terrorism officials suspect that the al-Shabab organization is recruiting young men from Somali communities in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, luring them back to their home country for terror training, and creating cells of fighters who could travel to other countries, including the U.S., to launch attacks.
    Four months ago, a young Somali man left Minneapolis to become a suicide bomber. He detonated a bomb he was wearing as part of coordinated attacks targeting a UN compound, the Ethiopian consulate and the presidential palace in Somalia's capital, the first known time a U.S. citizen was a suicide bomber.

Jordan Halves Jail Terms of Hamas Plotters (AFP)
    Jordan halved on Thursday jail sentences imposed on three people belonging to Hamas and convicted of plotting attacks in the kingdom in 2006, a judicial official said.
    The three men, of Palestinian origin, confessed on state television that they had plotted to kill senior Jordanian intelligence officials.

Woman Arrested in Saudi Arabia for Driving (CNN)
    Police in the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca Wednesday arrested a woman for violating the country's ban on women driving, according to the Saudi English-language daily Arab News.
    The woman attempted to flee when she realized police had spotted her, said Maj. Abdul Mushin al-Mayman, a police spokesman.

Israeli Restraint and Palestinian Responsibility in the Gaza War - Mitchell Bard (Encyclopedia Britannica)
    I visited the World War II museum in New Orleans the other day and was struck by the following description of the U.S. bombing of Japan:
    "On March 9-10, 1945, bombs incinerated 16 square miles and killed 100,000 civilians. In April, bombs destroyed 180 square miles, killed 300,000 people, and left 8.5 million people homeless."
    "Throughout the war, the United States resisted bombing civilian areas. But with time, attitudes hardened. What once became unthinkable became a deliberate policy."
    Ask yourself what America would do if its cities were bombarded by 10,000 rockets and mortars over the course of three years. Do you think the response would be proportional?
    Never in history has an army gone to such great lengths to avoid the loss of innocent life as Israeli forces did during the recent Gaza operation.

Christian Friends and Foes of Israel - Interview with David R. Parsons (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
    The Holocaust initiated a major change in thinking about the Jewish people in numerous Christian circles. To many it was clear that Christian anti-Semitic teachings had paved the way for the mass murders by the Nazis and their supporters.
    For centuries the Christian mainstream thought that the Jews were cursed to endless wanderings. It was the theological shock of the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 that challenged fundamental church teachings and doctrine concerning the Jewish people.

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  • Iran Looms Over Clinton's Mideast Trip - Mark Landler
    After three days of meetings in Egypt, Israel and the West Bank, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was struck by the depth of fear about Iran and the extent to which officials say it meddles in their affairs. "There is a great deal of concern about Iran from this whole region," she said Wednesday. "It is clear Iran intends to interfere with the internal affairs of all of these people and try to continue their efforts to fund terrorism, whether it is Hizbullah or Hamas or other proxies." (New York Times)
        See also Iran Throws Conference to Support Hamas - Ali Akbar Dareini
    Iran, Hamas, and their supporters from 30 countries spent two days probing ways to provide assistance to the militant Palestinian group and promote "resistance against Israel" at an international gathering in Tehran. The conference aimed to counter an international meeting at Sharm el-Sheik on Monday that gave a boost to Hamas' rival, Mahmoud Abbas. Countries represented at the conference included Lebanon, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Mali, as well as Turkey, Indonesia, Algeria, Bolivia, Jordan and Yemen. (AP/Washington Post)
  • U.S. Lawmakers Urge Tighter Palestinian Aid Controls
    U.S. lawmakers demanded Thursday that the UN impose tighter controls on aid to the Palestinians to ensure no U.S. funds end up in the pockets of extremists. "The United Nations should take immediate steps to improve the transparency and accountability of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA)," said Democratic Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ). Rothman has written a non-binding resolution urging Secretary of State Clinton to certify that "no American taxpayer dollars are being directed to terrorists or to further terrorist propaganda" through UNRWA. The resolution also urges UNRWA to enhance screening procedures, including terrorist name-recognition software, "to ensure that UNRWA staff, volunteers, and beneficiaries are neither terrorists themselves, nor affiliated with known terrorist organizations."
        Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) blasted UNRWA's accounting practices as likely to enable Hamas to siphon off some of a new U.S. aid pledge of $900 million for the West Bank and Gaza. If the group managed to grab 10% of that package, "the United States taxpayer would be then the number-two financial supporter of Hamas after the government of Iran," he said. (AFP)
        See also U.S. Lawmaker: Release Kidnapped Israeli Soldier or No Gaza Aid - Natasha Mozgovaya
    A new initiative by members of the U.S. Congress seeks to condition the transfer of $900 million for the Palestinians on an end to rocket fire on Israel from Gaza and the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) drafted a petition to Secretary of State Clinton which demanded that the financial aid be delayed for as long as the rocket fire continues and Shalit remains in captivity. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israelis Still Under Fire
    Atara Orenbuch, a mother of six children in Sderot, reports: "Today we had two Kassam rockets. Every time there's a Red Alert, you drop everything and run to shelter. You lose a heartbeat each time. I know my children are safe in school, but it's the journey there and back I worry about. The terrorists love that time between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. Every morning, we get into the car and we don't know how it will end. I've felt like that for eight years." "After the war there was one week of quiet....But once the first rocket exploded after the war - that was it. The war didn't do enough."
        Omri Barsheshet of Ashkelon explains: "We usually get one or two alarms every day. The rockets usually fall south of Ashkelon, but last weekend one fell inside a schoolyard." "I feel sorry for the people in Gaza; they are ruled by a terrorist organization which just wants to shoot rockets." (BBC News)
        See also Ashkelon, Back in Cross Hairs - Joshua Mitnick
    Over the weekend in Ashkelon, a Hamas rocket landed in the courtyard of the Amit religious high school, spraying tiny metal shrapnel balls that left the walls with giant pockmarks. In an adjacent computer lab, the ceiling tiles were blown out from the force of the explosion, leaving monitors covered in dust and metal frames and a light fixture dangling overhead "Here is what's left of the computer lab," said Tomer Sultan, the computer teacher. "I used to worry about every little virus; now...80% of the computers are dead."
        The direct hit at the school injured no one because it occurred on a Saturday morning. "If it happened one day later, we would be at war now," said a security guard. Sultan said that Ashkelon residents had hoped that the operation in Gaza would stop the missile fire, but that didn't happen. (New York Jewish Week)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Palestinian Rocket Hits Synagogue in Netivot - Avi Issacharoff, Anshel Pfeffer and Yanir Yagna
    Palestinians on Thursday fired a Grad rocket that struck a synagogue in the Israeli town of Netivot, damaging the building. The Israel Air Force retaliated shortly after the attack, striking four smuggling tunnels. The Israel Defense Forces said: "As the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bears full responsibility for all terror originating within its area of control. The IDF will continue to respond to any attempts to destabilize southern Israel." Palestinians also fired six Kassam rockets and two mortar shells on Thursday. (Ha'aretz)
  • Israel Condemns UK Decision to Talk to Hizbullah - Herb Keinon
    Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, told the British Parliament on Wednesday that his government would hold discussions with Hizbullah's political wing. The British move was roundly condemned in Jerusalem. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Hizbullah is a terrorist organization that "uses violence as a means to foist itself and the interest of the country that pulls its strings [Iran] onto Lebanon. All its activities are designed to undercut peace and stability in the Middle East." "Anyone looking to promote compromise, understanding and peace in the Middle East will not find a partner in Hizbullah," Palmor said.
        Former Ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval noted, "They say they are doing this because of the growing role of Hizbullah in Lebanese politics, but is that growing role a good or a bad thing? Why do they want to encourage it?" (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):


  • Can We Give to Gaza Without Giving to Hamas? - Claudia Rosett
    If stuffing billions worth of aid into the Palestinian territories could end Islamist terrorism out of Gaza, it might be worth the money. The broad aim of the donors' conference in Sharm el-Sheikh was to bypass the Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists who control Gaza, and shovel resources for strictly humanitarian uses into the enclave "in coordination with" the Palestinian Authority, run by Fatah, Hamas' rival, based in the West Bank. This is despite a record which suggests that decades of aid to the Palestinians have fostered not peace but continuing violence.
        The likelier scenario is that this new multibillion-dollar wave of aid will boost Hamas, which is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and hostile in its principles to Western democracy. As long as Gaza is controlled by Hamas, any aid funneled into the enclave is one dollar less that Hamas might be impelled to spend on upkeep of its turf, and one dollar more available for terrorist activities. The writer is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Forbes)
  • Why Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell Will Not Succeed in Middle East Peacemaking - Shmuel Rosner
    What have we heard from Clinton? More money to the Palestinians in the hope that this time it will be actually given and used wisely. More subtle pressure to "ease" conditions for Palestinians, without regard to the fact that closing the Gaza border is one of very few tools with which Israel can try to pressure Palestinian radicals into ceasing their fire. More talk about "Quartet demands" to Hamas - demands that it did not meet in the past and has shown no desire to meet in the future. More "vigorous" diplomacy cannot change the current situation. Prime Minister Olmert and PA leader Abbas have explored the contours of a possible peace deal more extensively than all preceding leaders, but they still couldn't reach an agreed solution - one that both sides would be willing to risk their political future by putting on the table.
        Pouring money into Gaza might make a bad situation even worse. It can be a huge waste of money in the not-unlikely case that Israel will again have to use force in Gaza fairly soon. Or it can serve to deter Israel from the necessary use of such force, fearing the outrage of those countries now investing money in rebuilding the targets that Israel needs to destroy yet again. Both Clinton and Mitchell know that no brilliant ideas can put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within months, not even a few years. Being "vigorously engaged," as Clinton promised, will not tame Hamas or make Abbas a strong leader; and no threats can force an Israeli leader to make real compromises when rockets keep falling on voters' heads. (New Republic)
  • Urging Talks with Hamas Only Encourages Its War Against Israel - Barry Rubin
    Perhaps it is true that peace can only be made with enemies, but this is only true regarding those who no longer want to be enemies. This does not apply in the case of Hamas. In fact, the stronger Hamas becomes - empowered by well-meaning bystanders - the further away will be any chance for peace. Hamas' main goal is the physical destruction of Israel and its people. Its historic military tactic was the maximum murder of Israeli civilians. That is commonly called genocide.
        If the goal of Hamas is not a two-state solution but Israel's destruction, the repression of all other Palestinian forces, and the establishment of an Islamist dictatorship, how is any compromise outcome possible? To empower Hamas is to undermine the Palestinian Authority. And to add Hamas to the PA would not make a more moderate Hamas, but a more radical PA. It would, in fact, destroy any possibility for peace whatsoever. Hamas is not going to be changed by any soft-line approach, no matter how much people wish that were the case. The answer is to defeat them by supporting their would-be victims; to show that moderation pays and fanaticism costs dearly. (Guardian-UK)
  • Not the Time for a Palestinian Unity Government - Yossi Alpher
    The emergence of a Palestinian unity government in the near future could be a disaster. A new unity government almost certainly means a formula for holding elections for the PA presidency and parliament no later than next January. As matters now stand, Hamas is liable to win those elections, since the Fatah party has been neither reformed nor rebuilt. Thus, a unity government could quickly confront Israel with the challenge of Hamas rule in the West Bank as well as Gaza.
        Furthermore, a Hamas-Fatah government is almost certain to mean serious backsliding in West Bank security. The entire successful restructuring of PA security forces under General Keith Dayton has been directed not only at restoring law and order but at sharply restricting Hamas activity in the West Bank. Is it conceivable that Hamas would agree that these tough anti-Hamas security measures continue when it constitutes half the PA government? Under current circumstances, it is better to have Israel and the PLO negotiating over the West Bank and Hamas contained inside Gaza, rather than to install Hamas rule in the West Bank as well as Gaza. (

    Other Issues

  • The Syria Temptation and Why President Obama Must Resist It - Bret Stephens
    Condoleezza Rice reversed the Bush administration's efforts to isolate Bashar al-Assad's regime by inviting it to participate in the November 2007 Annapolis Peace Conference. But when it comes to the Syria track, the U.S. and Israel have walked down this road before, again and again, almost always with disappointing results. Just weeks after the failure of Israeli-Syrian talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in January 2000, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara explained in a speech to the Arab Writers Union that Syria's interest in a negotiated settlement with Israel had nothing to do with actually coming to terms with Israel's right to exist, but rather that the recovery of the Golan Heights was merely a stage on the road to the destruction of Israel. Assad's government "believes that regaining the whole of Palestine is a long-term strategic goal that could not be implemented in one phase," said Shara. "[Our] doctrine draws a distinction between the different phases of the struggle for the liberation of Palestine."
        Among the more common misperceptions feeding the hope of persuading Bashar Assad to make peace with Israel is the notion that Damascus' alliance with Tehran is primarily one of convenience and inherently unnatural, since one regime is Arab, secular, and primarily Sunni, while the other is Persian, theocratic, and Shiite. Yet the relationship between Syria and Iran is in no danger of fraying. Rather, it has been deepening, and there is no reason to expect it will not continue to deepen. It is by no means clear that Syrian engagement would have any effect on the Tehran-Damascus alliance. Indeed, if the past five years of international negotiations over Iran's nuclear program are an indication, Tehran has learned that a sham interest in diplomacy is an excellent way to play for time and reap unreciprocated concessions without actually conceding on fundamentals.
        Though the Clinton administration's Mideast forays are now remembered as a hallowed period of robust and engaged American diplomacy, their achievements were relatively meager: The only lasting peace to emerge from the various processes was the one between Israel and Jordan. And that was the result of a strategic decision by King Hussein to which the Rabin government all but instantly acquiesced. Elsewhere, diplomacy proved to be an exercise in frustration and diminishing returns, purchased at a considerable cost to U.S. diplomatic capital and Israeli self-respect. (Commentary)
        See also Talking to Syria: An Important Test for Damascus - Andrew J. Tabler (New York Times-Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Getting Human Rights Wrong - Dan Kosky
    Amnesty International can rightly claim to have been a pioneer in defending prisoners of conscience. Yet, Amnesty's treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict has long been troubling. Last week, the organization released Fueling Conflict, its first substantive report on the Gaza operation. It devotes 12 pages to Israel's "misuse" of conventional arms, compared to one page describing Hamas' unlawful rocket attacks. It accuses Israel of having committed "war crimes" in Gaza, and calls for an international arms embargo. There is no doubt that there were civilian casualties in Gaza, but Amnesty mistakenly treats this fact as proof of Israel's criminality, when it is nothing of the sort. International law accepts civilian deaths as a tragic reality of war, particularly when fighting an enemy that has intentionally embedded itself in densely populated areas.
        Amnesty appears to subscribe to a fairy-tale worldview in which all non-combatant deaths and the use of all weapons under any circumstances are by definition immoral, wrong and illegal. Were the organization's stringent standards to be enforced, there would be no such thing as a just war and all democratic leaders who seek to defend their citizens against aggression and terrorism, as is their responsibility, would be deemed "war criminals." For their work to have meaning, human rights organizations are by definition required to display moral clarity. They must be able to clearly distinguish between legitimate and illegal use of arms, ethical warfare and terrorism. The writer is communications director of NGO Monitor. (Ha'aretz)
  • Sex, Drugs and Islam - Spengler
    Iran is dying. The collapse of Iran's birth rate during the past 20 years is the fastest recorded in any country, ever. An analysis of the 2006 Iran census shows a fertility level of 1.9 for the whole country and 1.5 for the Tehran area. In 1980, the fertility rate in rural areas was 8.4 while that of urban areas was 5.6. It seems that a spiritual decay has overcome Iran, despite the best efforts of a totalitarian theocracy. Popular morale has deteriorated much faster than in the "decadent" West against which the Khomeini revolution was directed. In addition, with oil at barely one-fifth of its 2008 peak price, they will run out of money some time in late 2009 or early 2010.
        Prostitution has become a career of choice among educated Iranian women. The Austrian daily Der Standard reported on Feb. 3, "More than 90% of Tehran's prostitutes have passed the university entrance exam....They are content with their occupation and do not consider it a sin according to Islamic law." Furthermore, the UN Office of Drugs and Crime estimates that Iran has as many as 1.7 million opiate addicts, 5% of Iran's adult, non-elderly population. That is an astonishing number. The closest American equivalent found that 119,000 Americans reported using heroin within the prior month, or less than one-tenth of 1% of the non-elderly adult population. Iran's startling rates of opium addiction and prostitution reflect popular demoralization. According to an unpublicized Iranian study, 36% of Iran's youth aged 15 to 29 years want to emigrate. (Asia Times-Hong Kong)
  • Peace Possible Only If Israel Stays Strong - David Lazarus
    Unlike the "failing" Arab states wallowing in poverty, neglect and illiteracy, the Gulf emirates have flourished in peace and development, notes Bar-Ilan University's Mordechai Kedar. "Why? Because each one is comprised of one tribe....That will be the secret to [Middle East] peace success. Give each tribe its own state." According to Kedar, in Islamic states, "peace" is a status that exists between communities, not nations. That's why the concept of a permanent peace with Israel is "totally unacceptable." "Even when [the late Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat consulted the imams for permission to make peace with Israel - as Mohammed offered peace to the infidels of Mecca - it was only for a time," Kedar said. "The peace might be permanent, but only if Israel stays strong enough."
        Kedar said he is occasionally interviewed in Arabic on Al-Jazeera, which broadcasts from Qatar, because "there are Arabs who like to hear what the other side says." But he said the network's Arabic-language broadcasts overall depict Israel as "wicked, racist and cruel." In the view of many Muslims, Jews are perpetual infidels who are descendants of "pigs and monkeys." (Canadian Jewish News)
  • Observations:

    Lost in the Blur of Slogans - Ishmael Khaldi (San Francisco Chronicle)

    • On American campuses, organizing committees are planning happenings for Israel Apartheid Week to once again castigate Israel as the lone responsible party for all that maligns the Middle East. Last year, at UC Berkeley, I had the opportunity to "dialogue" with some of the organizers of these events.
    • My perspective is unique, both as the vice consul for Israel in San Francisco, and as a Bedouin and the highest-ranking Muslim representing Israel in the U.S. I began life as a shepherd, one of 11 children living in our family tent. I went on to serve in the Israeli border police, and later earned a master's degree in political science from Tel Aviv University before joining the Israel Foreign Ministry. If Israel were an apartheid state, I would not have been appointed.
    • I am a proud Israeli - along with many other non-Jewish Israelis such as Druze, Bahai, Bedouin, Christians and Muslims, who live in one of the most culturally diversified societies and the only true democracy in the Middle East. By any yardstick you choose - educational opportunity, economic development, women and gay's rights, freedom of speech and assembly, legislative representation - Israel's minorities fare far better than any other country in the Middle East
    • To the organizers of Israel Apartheid Week, I say: You are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Do Israel's Arab citizens suffer from disadvantage? You better believe it. Do African Americans 10 minutes from the Berkeley campus suffer from disadvantage - you better believe it, too. So should we launch a Berkeley Apartheid Week, or should we seek real ways to better our societies and make opportunity more available?

          See also Ottawa Universities Ban Apartheid Week Poster - Sheri Shefa
      Carleton University and the University of Ottawa have banned one Israeli Apartheid Week poster from their campuses because it included an image that was "inflammatory and capable of inciting confrontation." The group Students Against Israeli Apartheid put up posters depicting a helicopter labeled "Israel" firing a missile at a teddy bear-holding toddler labeled "Gaza." (Canadian Jewish News)
          See also The Lesson from Israel Apartheid Week - Jonathan Kay (National Post-Canada)

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