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March 20, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

President Peres Gives Prime Minister-Designate Netanyahu Two More Weeks to Form Coalition - Ronen Medzini (Ynet News)
    President Shimon Peres on Friday granted prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu a 14-day extension to form his government.
    Likud leader Netanyahu has asked the Labor party to join his coalition and Labor chairman Ehud Barak plans to bring the matter to the party's central committee on Tuesday.

Iran: America's New Space Rivals - Uzi Rubin (Washington Times)
    Iran's recent breakthrough in placing its own satellite in orbit by a homemade multistage rocket earned it the distinction of being the first radical regime that reaches space.
    The tepid reaction in the U.S. and the West to this watershed event served as a powerful inducement for Iran, North Korea and other potential nuclear wannabees to camouflage their offensive missile programs in the guise of peaceful space activities.
    Any rocket that can propel a satellite into Earth orbit can be easily modified and upscaled to drop a significant bomb anywhere on Earth.
    See also Iranian Satellite Completes Mission (Reuters)

Iranian Blogger Dies in Prison - Robert Mackey (New York Times)
    Iranian blogger Omidreza Mirsayafi, who had been sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the country's leaders, died in Tehran's Evin Prison on Wednesday.

Palestinian Rights Group Criticizes Hamas and Fatah (Reuters)
    The Independent Commission for Human Rights said Thursday that five Palestinians died in 2008 in questionable circumstances in prisons in the West Bank, where Fatah holds sway, and two in jails in Hamas-run Gaza.
    The Palestinian rights group said it had documented torture in Palestinian prisons in both territories that included beatings and the removal of fingernails.
    The ICHR said it received 2,312 complaints of arrests and prisoner mistreatment in 2008 compared with 2,007 in the previous year.

Saudis Fear Iran Behind Local Shiite Disturbances - Mai Yamani (Taipei Times-Taiwan)
    On Feb. 24, 2,000 Shiite pilgrims gathered near the mosque that houses Muhammad's tomb in Medina for the commemoration of the prophet's death, an act of worship that the ruling Saudi Wahhabi sect considers heretical and idolatrous.
    The religious police of the Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Prohibition of Vice, armed with sticks and backed by police, tried to disperse the pilgrims. Three pilgrims died and hundreds were injured in the ensuing stampede.
    Shiites constitute 75% of the population in the Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia's main oil-producing region, and identify far more strongly with Shiites across the border in Iraq than with the Saudi state.
    The empowerment of Iraq's long-suppressed Shiites has raised expectations among Saudi Arabia's Shiites that they, too, can gain first-class status.
    From the regime's point of view, Shiite Iran is now the most serious security threat. The Saudi authorities perceived the Shiite demonstrations as an assertion of Iranian policy.
    The writer is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

The Gaza War and the New Outburst of Anti-Semitism - Manfred Gerstenfeld and Tamas Berzi (Institute for Global Jewish Affairs)
    Anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli manifestations reached new highs during Israel's recent Gaza campaign.
    Attacks included strong condemnations of Israeli actions by several governments as well as violent demonstrations in a number of countries.
    There were physical attacks on Jewish individuals and institutions as well as much hate speech, including increased public expressions equating Israel with Nazi Germany.

Israel Guidebook 2nd Most Popular in Japan - Danny Sadeh (Ynet News)
    A tourism guide of Israel, written in Japanese, won second place in sales among 100 guides on international tourism belonging to the Globetrotter series in Japan.
    "East Asian nations constitute a growing market in international tourism," said Shaul Zemach, director-general of the Tourism Ministry.
    Some 135,000 East Asian tourists visited Israel last year, up 20% from 2007.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Obama Extends Iran an Olive Branch on Videotape
    President Obama issued a videotaped appeal to Iran on Friday offering a "new beginning" of diplomatic engagement. "My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties," Obama said in a message timed for the Nowruz spring holiday celebration in Iran. He said the U.S. wanted Iran to take its "rightful place in the community of nations." "You have that right - but it comes with real responsibilities, and that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization." (Reuters/New York Times)
        View the Video (White House)
  • Iranian Defector Reportedly Tipped Off U.S. on Syria Nuke Plant
    A retired general in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, former deputy defense minister Ali Reza Asghari, who defected to the U.S. in February 2007, revealed that Iran was financing North Korean moves to make Syria into a nuclear weapons power, leading to the Israeli air strike on Sept. 6, 2007, that destroyed Syria's nearly completed Al Kabir reactor, the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported Thursday. The article was written by Hans Ruehle, former chief of the planning staff of the German Defense Ministry. "No one in the American intelligence scene had heard anything of it. And the Israelis who were immediately informed also were completely unaware," he said.
        Israel sent a 12-man commando unit in two helicopters to the site in August 2007 to take photographs and soil samples. "The analysis was conclusive that it was a North Korean-type reactor," a gas graphite model, Ruehle said. Other sources have suggested that the reactor might have been large enough to make about one nuclear weapon's worth of plutonium a year. Israel estimates that Iran paid North Korea between $1 billion and $2 billion for the project, Ruehle said. (AP/Fox News)
  • Palestinian Reconciliation Talks Break Down - Salah Nasrawi
    Egyptian-mediated talks between Hamas and Fatah broke down Thursday without a deal on a national unity government. Negotiators for Fatah, which rules the West Bank, said the new government must commit to the program of the PLO, which recognized Israel in 1993. Hamas official Fawzi Barhoum reiterated Thursday that his group will not agree to "commit" to the accords or recognize Israel. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • IDF Orders Probe into Allegations over Gaza War - Amos Harel
    In the wake of an Ha'aretz expose, the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday ordered an investigation into soldiers' accounts of alleged misconduct and serious violations of the army's rules of engagement. Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit instructed the Military Police Investigation unit to launch the probe after the report of a discussion by soldiers at a military cadet academy. The IDF Spokesman's Office said: "The IDF has no supporting or prior information about these events. The IDF will check their veracity and investigate as required." (Ha'aretz)
        See also Israel TV Defense Correspondent: The Credibility of the Soldiers' Stories Is Very Doubtful - Roni Daniel
    The soldier who described the shooting of a woman and her two children was called into his commanding officer and stated, "I didn't see it myself. There were stories like this. I wasn't in that house and all that I said was based on rumors. The conference (where I related the story) was a social conversation, and that's how I related to it." The soldier who described the shooting of an elderly woman admits he doesn't know the full story. "The credibility of the two stories is very doubtful," the correspondent concluded. (Israel Television Channel 2-Hebrew)
  • IDF Soldiers Refute Claims of Immoral Conduct in Gaza - Daniel Edelson
    IDF soldiers who took part in January's offensive in Gaza refuted on Thursday claims of immoral conduct on the military's part. Assaf Danziger, 21, a Givati Brigade soldier, said soldiers were given specific orders to open fire only at armed terrorists or people who posed a threat. "There were no incidents of vandalism at any of the buildings we occupied. We did only what was justified and acted out of necessity. No one shot at civilians. People walked by us freely," he recounted. A Paratroopers Brigade soldier who participated in the war called the claims "nonsense." "There are always a few idiots who act inappropriately, but most of the soldiers represented Israel honorably and with a high degree of morality."
        Major (res.) Idan Zuaretz, a Givati company commander, questioned the integrity of the soldiers who made the controversial claims, saying, "if this was such a burning issue for them, why have they remained silent until now? On an ethical and moral level, they were obligated to stop what they claimed had occurred and not wait two months to be heard at some esoteric debate."  (Ynet News)
  • The Crucial Morality of the IDF's Cause - Herb Keinon
    At what appears to have been a group therapy session at the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon in February, three soldiers told of cases in which civilians were killed by sniper fire, and of the wanton destruction of property. The IDF military advocate general instructed the Criminal Investigation Division of the Military Police on Thursday to investigate the claims. The country fights not because it wants to, but because it has to. And since it has to, it is crucial that Israelis believe in the morality of their cause. The idea of a moral army is not important because of how we are perceived abroad, but rather for how we perceive ourselves.
        Obviously, everyone abroad who wants to accuse Israel of war crimes in Gaza will jump at these stories; every anti-Israel NGO will disseminate them as further proof of our evil. What is lacking is context. It is important to note that none of the testimony was about what the soldiers did themselves, but rather of what they heard or saw other soldiers do. The second piece of context is Dani Zamir, the head of the course, who had the soldiers' words transcribed and published. Zamir appears in a 2004 book titled Refusnik, Israel's Soldiers of Conscience, described as "an officer in the reserves from Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar who was sentenced to 28 days for refusal to serve in Nablus." The testimonies of the soldiers that he brought to the public's attention seem to corroborate - what a coincidence - his views. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Syria's Very Special Court - Editorial
    A report from Human Rights Watch on Syria's use of a kangaroo court to criminalize even the mildest forms of dissent and free speech sheds light on the Syrian regime's disdain for legality - the trademark of a police state. The testimonies about Syria's Supreme State Security Court depict a travesty of justice. Defendants are thrown in jail for insulting Assad or for being found with subversive writing, CDs, or videos. They are held for months without being charged, and frequently tortured. When they finally appear before a security court judge, their defense lawyers have no role to play. President Obama must approach the Assad regime without illusions. (Boston Globe)
  • Buying Time with Iran: The F-22 Fighter - Lt. Col. Thomas Crimmins
    Russia is considering the sale of the advanced S-300 air defense system to Iran - a "game changing" move that could affect Israel's calculus about whether, and when, to launch a preventive strike against Iran's nuclear infrastructure. Known in the West as the SA-20, the S-300PMU-2 is capable of intercepting low-altitude cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and high-altitude bombers from a range of inside of 3 miles out to 95 miles. As a result, the former commander of the U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command, Gen. (ret.) Richard Hawley, noted last August: "For non-stealth aircraft, the SA-20 represents a virtual no-fly zone."
        Israel currently believes that its F-15I and F-16I aircraft maintain a viable strike option against Iranian nuclear targets. However, Iran's acquisition of the S-300 would render Israel's current strike options dramatically more difficult, and could force Israel to considerably move forward any strike timetable. The F-22 fighter might represent a trump card that could dissuade Russia from transferring the new air defense systems or that could preserve Israeli options should Russia go through with the sale. As Air Force Association President Lt. Gen. (ret.) Mike Dunn stated last December, "Only the F-22 can survive in airspace defended by increasingly capable surface-to-air missiles" such as the S-300. The writer is a visiting National Defense Fellow at The Washington Institute. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • The Role of Radical Islamic Groups in Israel: Implications for Israeli-Arab Coexistence - Lt.-Col. (res.) Dr. Mordechai Kedar
    The core question is to whom does this land belong? According to the Arab narrative, this has been an Arab Islamic region since the days of Omar, the caliph who conquered the land in the seventh century. According to the Islamic approach, since Islam began in 622 CE, all of history before that time has no meaning or significance.
        From the Jewish perspective, this land was populated by Jews and two Jewish kingdoms were here until 1900 years ago when the Jews were expelled with no justification. It even appears in the Koran that this land had been given to the Jews. To call Israel a "colonialist" state, as the Committee of Arab Local Authorities in Israel did in 2006, means a total denial of Jewish history. The writer, who served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, is a research associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. (Institute for Contemporary Affairs-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)
  • "Alice in Wonderland" Justice on Gaza - Alan Dershowitz
    On March 16, 2009, a group of 16 self-described experts on "international justice and reconciliation of conflict" called for the establishment of "a UN Commission" to conduct an "independent and impartial investigation" of war crime allegations stemming from the Gaza conflict. Only a group as skewed against Israel as this one is would regard the UN as capable of conducting an "independent and impartial investigation" of anything involving Israel. No commission could credibly investigate Israel's actions unless it first set out with clarity what it believes Israel should have done and could have done under international law to prevent Hamas rockets from continuing to target a million Israeli civilians.
        Let the international community, led by the so-called experts who signed this letter, first decide what the appropriate response is for democracies faced with attacks on its civilians by terrorists who hide behind their own civilians. Only after it is first decided, in a neutral manner, what rules of self-defense should apply to all democracies faced with terrorism by those who hide behind civilians, could an independent body then credibly apply these standards to the actions of a particular country. (Jerusalem Post)
  • An Islamist Split on Al-Qaeda? - Clifford May
    Sayyid Imam al-Sharif - also known as Dr. Fadl - may be the most influential Islamist you've never heard of. The Telegraph (UK) notes he was "part of the tight circle which founded al-Qaeda in 1988 in the closing stages of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan." He went on to lead an insurgency against Egypt that landed him in a Cairo prison, where he has since spent his days writing. In a new book, Exposing the Exoneration, Dr. Fadl writes: "Have the Islamic peoples become guinea pigs upon whom bin Laden and al-Zawahri try out their pastime and sport of killing en masse?" On the 9/11 attacks he observes: "To cross the ocean to go to your enemy in its own home and destroy one of its buildings, and [in retaliation] it destroys the Taliban state - and then you claim to be a mujahid (jihad fighter) - only an idiot would do such a thing."
        He criticizes Muslims who settle in the West and then take up arms against their hosts. "If they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum," it is "not honorable" to "betray them, through killing and destruction." Al-Qaeda's interpretation of Shariah law is not just incorrect, according to Dr. Fadl - it is a "criminal school of belief." He argues that Islamic jurisprudence does not provide unrestricted permission to use human shields or to indulge in indiscriminate killing of noncombatants. The writer is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Washington Times)
  • Intellectual Boycott of Israel Hits U.S. - Erin Sheley
    In January, a group of American university professors launched the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. The boycott follows on the heels of several similar attempts made by British professors. Despite the comparatively low number of signatories, the campaign puts an official face on what many students already experience as a monolithic anti-Israel narrative across American campuses that obscures the harm inflicted upon the Palestinians by their own leaders, as well as gross human-rights violations by the leaders of the rest of the Arab world.
        As Ruth Wisse, Professor of Yiddish and comparative literature at Harvard, says, "being against the Jewish nation was a great feature of leftism since Karl Marx" and this impulse to "be against something," coupled with the natural instinct of activist students to seek a single scapegoat for the plight of an undeniably oppressed people, results in a dramatically simplified story, in which Israelis become the "only group that you can safely aggress against with no price to be paid." All this despite the role of Arab nations themselves in keeping Palestinians victimized. (Weekly Standard)

    Weekend Features

  • Polish Spy in Auschwitz Told West about Gas Chambers - Kamil Tchorek
    Newly released documents from the Polish archives reveal how Polish officer Witold Pilecki, using the false name Tomasz Serafinski, set up an underground resistance group in the Auschwitz concentration camp after voluntarily being imprisoned there for 2 1/2 years. His reports, smuggled out to the Resistance, have now come to light. He wrote: "The gigantic machinery of the camp spewing out dead bodies has claimed many of my friends."
        By 1942 Pilecki's organization realized the existence of the gas chambers and he worked on several plans to liberate Auschwitz, including one in which the RAF would bomb the walls, or Free Polish paratroopers would fly in from Britain. However, in 1943, realizing that the Allies had no plans to liberate the camp, he escaped. Pilecki ensured that a full report on the camp reached London, and the resistance group he started in Auschwitz continued to feed information to Britain and the U.S., confirming that the Nazis were bent on the extermination of the Jews. The archive material will again raise questions as to why the Allies never did anything to stop the atrocities there.
        In July 1945 Pilecki returned to Poland to gather intelligence on the Soviet takeover of the country. He was caught and executed by the Polish Communist regime in 1947. (Times-UK)
  • 4,000-Year-Old "Abraham's Gate" Restored - Ofri Ilani and Eli Ashkenazi
    The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority Tuesday opened "Abraham's Gate" at Tel Dan in the north, for visits by the public. The ancient structure from the Canaanite period of the Bronze Age is thought to have been built around 1750 BCE, the period of Abraham, the first patriarch of the Jewish people. The gate, first uncovered in 1979, is composed of three arches and constructed of sun-dried mud brick on a foundation of large basalt stones. Tel Aviv University archaeologist Raphael Greenberg noted that it is the oldest arch in the country. (Ha'aretz)
  • The Orange Tree Is Texting - Again - Stephanie I. Freid
    A sensor developed by Israeli scientists sends text messages to farmers when crops need water, or to homeowners when the Ficus is thirsty. Israel Agricultural Ministry plant physiologist Dr. Eran Raveh and his earth-scientist partner Dr. Arie Nadler spent seven years perfecting the hammer-shaped sensor that gauges moisture levels in plants and trees and sends real-time alerts to mobile phones or computers when water levels are low. The sensor helps cut water usage and avoid unnecessary and damaging over-irrigation by providing accurate water-level feedback. "The idea behind creating the sensor was to cut irrigation costs by up to 50%," Raveh said. (Fox News)
  • Observations:

    Israel and the Free World Are Fighting the Same Enemy - Rupert Murdoch (Jerusalem Post)

    • We see a growing assault on both the legitimacy and security of the State of Israel from people who make clear they have no intention of ever living side-by-side in peace with a Jewish state - no matter how many concessions Israel might make. For months now, Hamas has been raining down rockets on Israeli civilians. No sovereign nation can sit by while its civilian population is attacked.
    • If you are committed to Israel's destruction, and if you believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond, it will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian - no matter how many precautions Israeli soldiers take.
    • In the global media war, for Hamas, the images of Palestinian suffering - of people losing their homes, of parents mourning their dead children, of tanks rolling through the streets - create sympathy for its cause. In a battle marked by street-to-street fighting, the death of innocents is all but inevitable.
    • But I am curious: Why do we never hear calls for Hamas leaders to be charged with war crimes? Why do we hear no calls for human rights investigations into Hamas gunmen using Palestinian children as human shields? Why so few stories on the reports of Hamas assassins going to hospitals to hunt down their fellow Palestinians? And where are the international human rights groups demanding that Hamas stop blurring the most fundamental line in warfare: the distinction between civilian and combatant?
    • In the West, we are used to thinking that Israel cannot survive without the help of Europe and the United States. Maybe we should start wondering whether we in Europe and the United States can survive if we allow the terrorists to succeed in Israel. The Free World makes a terrible mistake if we deceive ourselves into thinking this is not our fight.

      The writer is chairman and CEO of News Corporation.

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