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March 13, 2009

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Revised Textbooks at Saudi Islamic Academy in Virginia Still Show Intolerance - Matthew Barakat (AP/Washington Post)
    The Islamic Saudi Academy in Alexandria, Va., with close ties to the Saudi government, has revised its religious textbooks in an effort to end criticism that the school fosters hatred and intolerance.
    Yet enough sensitive material remains to fuel critics who claim the books show intolerance toward those who do not follow strict interpretations of Islam.
    In the new books, words like "infidel" have been replaced with more neutral words like "non-Muslim."
    However, Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, said that the core ideology - a puritanical strain of Islam known as Wahhabism that is dominant within Saudi Arabia - remains intact.
    One chapter deals extensively with sorcery, for instance, while another warns Muslims to be careful in accepting party and wedding invitations from non-Muslims.

Calls in Egypt to Review or Abolish Peace Treaty with Israel - Ramadan Al Sherbini (Gulf News-UAE)
    Anti-Israel activists in Egypt are demanding to review or even abolish the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
    "In view of the enormous changes which have occurred over the past 30 years, Egypt has the right under international law to demand the treaty be revised," said Hazem Allam, a professor of international law at Ain Shams University in Cairo.
    In his opinion, one clause for revision is the one restricting the level of the Egyptian military in Sinai. "Egypt can demand an increased military and police presence in Sinai to protect its land," argued Allam.
    Helmi Shaarawi, who heads the Center of Arab and African Research at Cairo University, favors suspension of the treaty. In fact, Egyptian courts are presently hearing five lawsuits pushing for scrapping the treaty with Israel.
    "All the options should be considered in order to ensure that this treaty will not continue to harm Egypt's interests," said Shaarawi.

Report: Islamists Are Main Terrorist Threat in Italy (AKI-Italy)
    The Italian government investigated 216 terror threats against Italy last year, concluding that Islamist cells were the "primary threat to the public interest, both inside Italy and abroad," according to an anti-terrorism report presented to the Department of Information Security in Rome on Tuesday.
    Al-Qaeda's leadership "is still playing a central role" in international terrorism, the report said, adding that investigators were giving priority to probes of jihadist plots.
    The northern region of Lombardy is one of the main strongholds of Islamist radicalism, as is the southern Campania region surrounding Naples. Other sensitive areas include the northern Piemonte, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions and the central Tuscany region.

China's Interaction with Israel and the Jewish People - Interview with Shalom Salomon Wald by Manfred Gerstenfeld (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
    Israel and the Jewish people should build bridges of friendship with China and develop a strategic concept on how to further their interests there.
    For the Chinese, Jews and Israel are the same. Besides the Hindu world this is the only major civilization where the Jewish people can start from a neutral or even positive position.
    Middle Eastern stability and Israel's role in it are increasingly important for China. Since its influence will grow very quickly, it is important to have China well disposed toward Israel.
    Dr. Wald, a Senior Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute in Jerusalem, is the author of China and the Jewish People: Old Civilizations in a New Era.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama Extends U.S. Sanctions Against Iran
    President Barack Obama said on Thursday he was extending sanctions against Iran for another year as it continued to pose an "extraordinary threat" to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the U.S.  Obama extended the economic sanctions first imposed by former President Bill Clinton in March 1995. At the same time, the Obama administration intends to invite Tehran to an international conference on Afghanistan, which borders Iran, planned for this month. (Reuters)
  • Russian Analyst Warns of Iran Missile and Nuclear Threat
    Russia and the West would be making a big mistake if they ignored or underestimated the potential missile and nuclear threat coming from Iran, a Russian military expert said on Thursday. "Iran is actively working on a missile development program....They will most likely be able to threaten the whole of Europe," said Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, head of the Moscow-based Center for Strategic Nuclear Forces.
        "Iran has long abandoned outdated missile technologies and is capable of producing sophisticated missile systems," Dvorkin said. Commenting on the Iranian nuclear program, Dvorkin said, "The real threat is that Iran, which is already ignoring all resolutions and sanctions issued by the UN Security Council, will be practically 'untouchable' after acquiring nuclear-power status, and will be able to expand its support of terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hizbullah." (RIA Novosti-Russia)
  • Israel Says Nuclear-Free Middle East Needs Peace First
    Meir Itzhaki, the Israeli representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said Thursday that ongoing threats against his country, and the fact that states were actively engaged in proliferation and support of terrorism, did not allow for the establishment at this time of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. While Israel supported the idea of a non-conventional weapons-free region "eventually...we would need peace, reconciliation and the recognition of every state's right to live in peace," he said. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur)
  • Britain's Contacts with Hizbullah Vex U.S. - Mark Landler
    A senior Obama administration official said Thursday that the U.S. was puzzled by Britain's announcement last week that it was re-establishing contact with the political wing of the militant group Hizbullah. The U.S. wanted Britain to explain "the difference between the political, social and military wings of Hizbullah because we don't see the difference between the integrated leadership that they see," the official said.
        Britain's initiative comes as the White House is reaching out to another old foe, Syria. Still, the administration is cautious about the extent of the Syrian warming trend. The U.S., the official said, still has no plans to send an ambassador to Damascus to fill a post that has been vacant since 2005. (New York Times)
  • Egyptian Cleric: "We Will Fight, Defeat, and Annihilate the Jews"
    Egyptian cleric Muhammad Hussein Ya'qoub said on Al-Rahma TV on Jan. 17, 2009: "If the Jews left Palestine to us, would we start loving them? Of course not. We will never love them." "Your belief regarding the Jews should be, first, that they are infidels, and second, that they are enemies. They are enemies not because they occupied Palestine. They would have been enemies even if they did not occupy a thing." "We must believe that our fighting with the Jews is eternal, and it will not end until the final battle....You must believe that we will fight, defeat, and annihilate them, until not a single Jew remains on the face of the Earth." (MEMRI)
  • Dutch Arrest Seven Suspected of Preparing Terror Attack - Toby Sterling
    Dutch police on Thursday arrested seven people suspected of preparing a terrorist attack in Amsterdam, including a relative of one of the attackers in the 2004 bombings in Madrid. Mayor Job Cohen said, "Men were planning to put explosives in the shops and wanted to cause casualties in busy places." District Attorney Herman Bolhaar said six men and one woman were arrested in Amsterdam. All are Dutch nationals of Moroccan ancestry. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • PA Unity Negotiations Near Collapse - Khaled Abu Toameh
    Hamas and Fatah negotiators said on Thursday they are having difficulty reaching an agreement over the makeup and political program of a Palestinian unity government. Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, reacted angrily to U.S. Secretary of State Clinton's demand that a new government accept the conditions of the Middle East Quartet, namely recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and accepting all agreements between the PLO and Israel. "Who said that we are going to form a government just to appease the Americans?" Barhoum asked. "The main reason for schism in the Palestinian arena is U.S. meddling in our internal affairs." Hamas was also strongly opposed to the reappointment of outgoing PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad as head of the unity government, he said.
        Hamas spokesman Taher a-Nunu said, "Fatah wants a government that accepts the two-state solution, and this is something that Hamas can't and will never accept....We are prepared to accept a Palestinian state in the 1967 boundaries only as a temporary solution." (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Palestinians Seek Unity Government without Fayad, a Western Favorite - Charles Levinson
    Can rival Palestinian factions meeting in Cairo form a government acceptable to the Western donors they depend on without Prime Minister Salam Fayad? Dislike for Fayad - a member of a small Palestinian party called the Third Way - may be one of the few things both Fatah and Hamas can agree on. But Fayad is the West's most trusted Palestinian partner and a government without him could jeopardize some Western aid. "The feeling is that Fayad is a guarantee for our support and our money," said a Western diplomat in Jerusalem. "Without him it will be a lot harder to persuade our domestic parliaments to give money to the Palestinians." (Wall Street Journal)
        See also U.S. to Review Aid if Palestinian Unity Deal Reached - Adam Entous (Reuters)
  • Ashkelon School Resumes Studies after Palestinian Rocket Attack - Shmulik Hadad
    Students and faculty at a school in Ashkelon returned for the first time Thursday after it was struck two weeks ago by an improved Grad rocket launched by Palestinians in Gaza. "I keep reminding myself how fortunate it was that the students were not here when the Grad hit (on a Saturday)," Principal Itzik Aberjil said. One student noted, "Whenever the Color Red siren sounds, we run to take cover in a secure area, and here the entire secure area was destroyed by the rocket." (Ynet News)
        See also Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues Friday - Ilana Curiel (Ynet News)
  • UK to Host Meeting on Preventing Gaza Arms Smuggling
    The UK will host an experts' meeting on preventing arms smuggling to Gaza on Friday, Britain announced Thursday. The U.S., Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway will participate in the London meeting. "Tackling the smuggling of arms to Gaza is an important element in helping to ensure a lasting ceasefire," said Bill Rammell, the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran's Nuclear Deception - William H. Tobey
    The International Atomic Energy Agency tells us that Iran has produced more low-enriched uranium than had previously been reported. The discovery of an additional 209 kilograms (460 pounds) of material was noted after a physical verification of Iran's inventory last November. Previous reports relied upon Iranian operating records. According to IAEA figures, the Iranian operating records had somehow undercounted total production by about a third - hardly a small error.
        Context is also important. Iran's Natanz facility was disclosed to the world not by a declaration to the IAEA, but by a militant group's press conference in August 2002. The IAEA, the Obama administration, and our European negotiating partners should exercise great caution in considering proposals that would depend on intricate and foolproof verification schemes. The writer was until recently deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation at the National Nuclear Security Administration. (Boston Globe)
  • Iran Can't Be Trusted - Editorial
    On Tuesday, the UN Security Council sanctions-monitoring committee rebuked Iran for trying to smuggle a vast shipload of arms to Syria in violation of at least five UN resolutions. The discovery of over 3,000 cases of high explosives, large-bore armor-piercing shells and anti-tank propellant proves Iran has no intention of ceasing its arms shipments to terror groups such as Hizbullah, using Syria as a conduit. Nor can it be trusted to honor its international agreements to forgo acquiring nuclear arms.
        This is not the first time Iran has been caught red-handed smuggling powerful weapons to terror groups it funds and trains. In January 2002, a Palestinian ship, the Karine A, was caught by the Israelis in the Red Sea crammed full of Iranian- and Russian-made weapons. All this establishes not only why Iran cannot be trusted (and why the U. S. and other Western nations must closely monitor and constrain Iran's actions), but also why Israel is right to counteract threats to its security from places such as Gaza. (National Post-Canada)
  • Iran's Persecution of Baha'is Is Devastating - Nazila Ghanea
    Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Yet Iran's Prosecutor General, Ayatollah Qorban-Ali Dorri-Najafabadi, has now declared that the very expression of affiliation to the Baha'i faith is illegal. The 300,000 Baha'is make up Iran's largest non-Muslim religious minority. The Iranian government instructed all of its agencies back in October 2005 to identify and monitor the activities of every single Baha'i in Iran. Baha'is have been imprisoned, flogged and fined. The writer is a lecturer in international human rights law at the University of Oxford. (Telegraph-UK)
  • "Blaming the Jews" Doesn't Always Work - Wesley Pruden
    Charles W. Freeman Jr. is the well-paid shill for the Saudis and the Chinese who was stopped just before he was to assume the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council, where he would have directed the preparation of intelligence briefings for the president. Mr. Freeman has had a long if not distinguished career in berating the Israelis for struggling for survival and apologizing for Chinese repression of dissidents struggling only to breathe free. In a speech in 2005 he described Israel as the aggressor in the Middle East, and two years later accused the U.S. of "embracing Israel's enemies as our own."
        When Mr. Freeman surrendered to the inevitable and withdrew his name from consideration, he distributed a two-page rant casting himself as a martyr to Jewish perfidy and treachery, done in by a Jewish lobby. Blaming "lobbyists" is an odd excuse for Mr. Freeman, who is himself a lobbyist. He runs a think tank, the Middle East Policy Council, with money supplied by Saudi Arabia, which he lovingly describes as a kingdom ruled by the beneficent "Abdullah the Great." The writer is editor emeritus of the Washington Times. (Washington Times)
        See also Freeman's Rants Prove He Was Wrong Pick for Obama Adviser - Editorial (New York Daily News)
  • Israel Charged with Stealing Palestinian Rocks - Editorial
    To the ever-lengthening litany of Israeli wickedness add quarry pillaging. The front-page headline in Sunday's International Herald Tribune read: "West Bank Losing Land to Israel, Rock by Rock." The West Bank is disputed territory: When the Palestinians rejected the two-state solution in 1948, Jordan annexed the area. In 1967, Israel repelled a Jordanian attack and captured the territory.
        The 1949 Geneva Convention - the basis for claims that Israel is violating international law - applies in cases of armed conflict between signatories to the convention. While Jordan and Israel are signatories, virtually no state recognized Jordan's annexation of the West Bank. Hence the area was and remains in legal limbo. While Israel, de facto, adheres to the humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Convention, it has a right to quarry in the contested territory. No one suggests the quarries have been illegally confiscated or are private property. (Jerusalem Post)
  • The Difference between Darfur and Gaza - Cliff May
    Scores of donors gathered at an "International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy for the Reconstruction of Gaza" in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, where $4.5 billion in pledges was collected. The people of Gaza have long been receiving more aid per capita than just about any other group in the world - a high multiple of what Darfurians receive - but Gaza is in an especially sorry state these days. The reason: Gazans elected Hamas to rule them, and Hamas has vowed to exterminate Israel and, in pursuit of that goal, Hamas routinely fires missiles at Israeli towns.
        In response, about two months ago Israel invaded Gaza and went after Hamas leaders and fighters. Many in the "international community" criticized Israel's response as "disproportionate," despite the fact that it did not succeed in stopping the missile attacks. There have been over 100 since the "ceasefire" on Jan. 18. Logically, doesn't that suggest that the response was insufficient, rather than excessive? I don't mean to seem callous about the hardships being endured by Gazans. But I do mean to emphasize their responsibility - and the fact that, unlike the Darfurians, they could alleviate their suffering by tolerating Israel's existence, and pursuing peace. The writer is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. (Scripps-Howard)
  • Observations:

    Netanyahu Aide Skeptical on Syria Talks - Dan Williams (Reuters)

    • Israel's prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu will likely shelve Israeli peace talks with Syria given its territorial demands and alliance with Iran, a senior adviser to Netanyahu said on Thursday. Uzi Arad, widely considered to be Netanyahu's choice for national security adviser, suggested Israel's new regional priorities may make negotiating with the Palestinians more viable than with Syria.
    • "No one in his right mind would do a deal with Syria...if it remained aligned with Iran. It would just bring Iran closer to us," Arad said.
    • Netanyahu may see "no meeting ground between Israeli strategic and defense aspects...and what the Syrians are currently ready to bring to the table," Arad said. "Whereas on the Palestinian track he does believe that in certain areas we can accomplish, very rapidly, much progress on the ground in the West Bank."
    • Arad dismissed calls for Israel and its allies to reconsider their refusal to talk to Hamas until it softens its policies. "Its culture is extremist, is radical, is hostile, denies Israel's right to exist, and it belongs more in the camp of the Taliban and al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhoods of the world, all of which are very, very uncompromising."
    • "The order of priority is: blunt Iran first, move vigorously on peace after, and based on that. Should you act in the wrong will have a sterile, perhaps failed process with the Palestinians and at the same time you will end up with a nuclear Iran," Arad said.

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