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March 10, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

PA Poll: Only 39% Believe Abbas Is Legitimate President - Khalil Shikaki (Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research/IMRA)
    According to a recent Palestinian poll, public perception of the end of Abbas' term in office is leading 27% to believe that the legitimate president of the PA today is the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council and 24% believe that there is no legitimate president, while only 39% believe that the legitimate president is Abbas.
    Despite an increase in the popularity of Hamas, 71% say that given the outcome of the Gaza war, conditions of the Palestinians today are worse than they were before the war.

Lebanese Army Hunts Rockets Set for Launch at Israel (Strategy Page)
    The Lebanese army has moved another infantry brigade to the Israeli border, along with a company of commandos, to search for rockets.
    In the last few weeks, Lebanese troops have found and destroyed several dozen rockets set up for remote launch.
    More rockets have been found in hidden bunkers or inside homes.
    Some of the rocket stockpiles uncovered were apparently Hizbullah property. It's difficult for anyone but Hizbullah to move rockets into the border area.

Iran Tests New Air-to-Surface Missile - Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times)
    Iran has test-fired a precision air-to-surface missile with a 70-mile range, a capability that could threaten ships in the Persian Gulf, Iran's semiofficial Fars New Agency reported Sunday.
    The missile was said to include an "automatic guidance capability" and a "special warhead" for destroying large ships.
    The U.S. Navy keeps dozens of warships off the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf to escort oil tankers and serve as a check against Iran's ambitions.

Israeli Scientists Learn to "Declaw" Nuclear Fuel (UPI)
    Engineers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel say they have developed a way to "declaw" nuclear fuel, ensuring only peaceful plutonium use.
    The engineers said their technique "denatures" plutonium created in large nuclear reactors, making it unsuitable for use in nuclear arms.
    By adding Americium, a form of the basic synthetic element found in commercial smoke detectors and industrial gauges, plutonium can only be used for peaceful purposes.

Canada Urged to Review Middle East Refugee Cases - John Ivison (National Post-Canada)
    The Canadian government is being urged to re-examine all refugee cases heard by Khaled Mouammar, the current president of the Canadian Arab Federation.
    Mouammar, an outspoken supporter of Hamas and Hizbullah, recorded an acceptance rate of 100% when it came to refugees from North Africa and the Middle East during his time with the Immigration and Refugee Board between 1995 and 2005.

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  • Assad: No Full Peace with Syria without Resolution of Palestinian Conflict - Anna Fifield
    Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, has warned that a peace settlement with Israel without a resolution to the Palestinian conflict would be largely symbolic. Assad told the United Arab Emirates newspaper al-Khaleej that a comprehensive peace deal will require significant concessions on the Israeli side. "We give [the Israelis] the choice between comprehensive peace and a peace agreement which does not have any real value on the ground," he said. "There is a difference between a peace agreement and peace itself. A peace agreement is a piece of paper you sign. This does not mean trade and normal relations."
        The Syrian president is now suggesting that the Golan Heights would have to be returned as a precursor to a comprehensive treaty, which could not be forged without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Our people will not accept that, especially since there are half a million Palestinians in our country whose position remains unresolved. It is impossible under these terms to have peace in the natural sense," Assad said.
        "Assad is very clearly saying here that they have to return the Golan to get a cold peace, but that there will not be anything more than a cold peace unless they deal with the Palestinian issue," said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Some policymakers in the U.S. consider negotiating with Syria an easier problem to resolve than the Palestinian conflict. However, "the Syrian track is actually very complicated because it does not involve just the Golan but it involves distancing itself from Iran, and that is going to be very hard," Tabler said. (Financial Times-UK)
  • Palestinian Unity Talks Face Low Expectations - Nidal al-Mughrabi
    Divided over policy toward Israel and control of Gaza reconstruction aid, rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah began unity talks in Cairo on Tuesday. Palestinian political analysts said Hamas agreed to the talks to try to overcome its isolation by the West over the group's refusal to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals. Hamas official Ayman Taha said: "Gaza reconstruction is important but we are not required in return to cede our principles or recognize Israel, because that will never happen."  (Reuters)
  • Senators Question Intelligence Pick's Ties - Walter Pincus
    All seven Republican members of the Senate intelligence committee Monday criticized the choice of a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia for a senior intelligence position, concerned about his views on Israel and his past relationships with Saudi and Chinese interests. Charles W. Freeman Jr. was picked by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair to lead the National Intelligence Council. In that position, he will oversee production of national intelligence estimates. Since 1997, Freeman has presided over the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based organization that is funded in part by Saudi money. In that role, Freeman has criticized the Israeli government's positions and U.S. support for those policies. (Washington Post)
        See also Intelligence Appointment Questioned - Bret Stephens (Wall Street Journal)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Iran: Hostile Drones Disrupted Satellite Launch - Yoav Stern
    Hostile unmanned aerial vehicles overflew Iran last month and disrupted the communications systems at the launch site of a missile carrying Iran's first satellite to space, according to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He said that the disruptions caused a delay of the launch for several hours as the drones flew at very high altitude and used sophisticated electronic equipment to jam ground-based systems. Meir Javedanfar, an expert on Iran, said Monday, "The intelligence war against Iran is intensifying and becoming more public. It seems that the aim is not only to foil Iran's military development but also to embarrass the leadership." (Ha'aretz)
  • Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues - Shmulik Hadad
    Palestinians in Gaza fired two Kassam rockets at Israel on Monday. One rocket landed near a kibbutz south of Ashkelon. (Ynet News)
  • How to Contain the Iranian Threat - Brenda Gazzar
    On Sunday, Israeli military intelligence head Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin warned that Iran had "crossed the threshold" in expertise and materials required to produce nuclear weapons. Menashe Amir, an Iranian affairs expert and chief editor of the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Persian website, argues that the U.S. should drop the idea of negotiations with Iran and instead pursue a policy of serious international sanctions. Alternatively, if the U.S. decides to pursue negotiations, they should begin immediately in order to keep from giving Iran more time to achieve its nuclear aims. Amir said the Iranians were very experienced in drawing out negotiations in order to waste time and that the Americans had to move fast. "The Iranians are going on with their program without any disturbance and that's a very dangerous situation," Amir said.
        Meir Javedanfar, another Iranian affairs expert, feels that Obama should try to negotiate with the Iranians and show the international community that Iran is not that interested in stopping its nuclear program. Javedanfar and Amir both agree a "military option" should only be used as a last resort since Israel would be vulnerable to any type of Iranian response. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • International Aid for Gaza: Repeating the Failure of 2005? - Yossi Alpher
    The effort to galvanize financial aid to Gaza without compromising Washington's refusal to deal with Hamas has little chance of succeeding. Plenty of new aid money was pledged to Gaza reconstruction at the Sharm al-Sheikh conference, but it will be forthcoming only if Hamas can be induced to enter a new unity government based on its acceptance of the three Quartet conditions concerning recognition of Israel's right to exist, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of past agreements.
        The $4.4 billion pledged at Sharm al-Sheikh is reminiscent of the $3 billion that Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn recruited for Gaza in the summer of 2005, when Israel withdrew both its settlements and its army from Gaza. That money had far fewer strings attached to it: all the PA had to do was administer Gaza in a reasonable manner. But it failed. That means it is extremely problematic to base American hopes and intentions on repeat exercises like donors' conferences and unity governments that proved abortive in the past. (
  • Espionage Act Overreach in AIPAC Case - Editorial
    There was good news for the First Amendment last month when a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee can use evidence from classified documents in their defense at their trial on espionage charges. The ruling provides a golden opportunity for President Obama's Justice Department to drop this misbegotten case. The prosecution should never have been brought in the first place, for reasons of law and damage to free speech. Attorney General Eric Holder can do the country a favor by dropping it. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Obama Facing Human Rights Challenge in Syria - David Schenker
    Syria's leading dissident is on his deathbed. Riad Seif, 62 and suffering from cancer, has spent the last year in Adra prison as punishment for attending a meeting of pro-democracy groups in Damascus. Seif is the most respected member of Syria's dwindling secular, democratic opposition to the iron-fisted rule of Assad and his Alawite clan. A former member of parliament, Seif devoted much of the last two decades to criticizing the Assad regime. As the Obama administration prepares to resume diplomatic engagement with Damascus, his plight is a poignant reminder of the abysmal state of human rights in Syria. The writer is director of the program on Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Observations:

    A Middle East Reality Check Revisited - Uriel Heilman (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

    • There's no denying Hizbullah and Hamas are "entrenched political and social movements," as New York Times columnist Roger Cohen writes. So is al-Qaeda in parts of southeast Asia and northern Africa and, in past eras, the apartheid regime in South Africa and the Ku Klux Klan in the U.S. Does this mean the civilized peoples of the world - that is, those of us who don't make a goal of killing innocent civilians, women and children - ought to engage and compromise with them?
    • On Hamas, Cohen gets some of the facts wrong. For starters, Hamas has not offered Israel a decades-long truce. More importantly, why must we assume the best of Hamas and the worst of Israel? Cohen suggests that we should not take Hamas at its word when it comes to pledges to destroy Israel, but we should also not take Israel at its word when it says it wants a Palestinian state.
    • The "sporadic Hamas rockets" to which Cohen refers fall daily in southern Israel in an ever-expanding radius that already has reached Ashdod and Beersheva and soon will threaten metropolitan Tel Aviv.
    • As for the Gaza blockade - Gaza is enemy territory controlled by a radical Islamist group that represses its own population and is bent on Israel's destruction. Why should Israel open its borders to Gaza or encourage Egypt, Gaza's other neighbor, to do so?
    • Cohen may be right that the Western approach over the last few years toward Hamas and Hizbullah have not worked well. Both groups have gained strength, and held their respective populations hostage in one form or another. But ignoring the reality of what those groups stand for and undertake will only get us further into the muck in the Middle East, not lift us out of it.

          See also Middle East Reality Check - Roger Cohen (New York Times)

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