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July 22, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Lebanon Arrests Ten Islamists Plotting Attacks on UN Troops (Reuters)
    The Lebanese army said on Tuesday it had uncovered a militant Islamist network that had been plotting to carry out attacks against UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon as well as attacks outside Lebanon.
    A security source said the ten-member cell belonged to the al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam group which fought a 15-week battle with the army in 2007.
    The network, made up of members from different Arab countries, was led by a Syrian national.

Iran Supreme Leader Warns Opposition to Back Down - Ali Akbar Dareini (AP)
    Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei on Monday issued a strong warning to the opposition to back down after one of its top figures called for a referendum on the government.
    Khamenei has declared valid the re-election of President Ahmadinejad and has demanded a stop to questioning the results.

Russia Eyes Mediterranean Naval Base in Syria (UPI)
    The Russian navy is planning to upgrade its Soviet-era naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus in the eastern Mediterranean.
    Ria Novosti Monday quoted a senior Russian navy source as saying that "following modernization, the naval maintenance site at Tartus will become fully operational."

Saudi Efforts to Combat Terrorist Financing - Michael Jacobson (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
    Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has praised improved Saudi efforts in combating terrorist financing.
    However, the kingdom remains one of the major sources of terrorist financing throughout the world, with significant funds from private donors continuing to go to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Laskhar-e Taiba (LET), among other groups.
    The writer, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, served as a senior advisor in the Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

How Canadian Jews Defeat Boycotts - Stuart Laidlaw (Toronto Star)
    A liquor store sells out of Israeli kosher wine. The Royal Ontario Museum sees a sudden surge in online ticket sales to its Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.
    Not the outcome one would expect from two recent boycotts meant to protest Israel's handling of the Palestine situation, but that's what happened - thanks to the power of the Internet and a change in course by the Jewish community.
    Rather than react to the boycotts with counter-arguments and more rhetoric, Jewish groups have begun responding to boycotts by urging supporters to buy more of whatever is being boycotted.
    "The community feels really empowered by it," says Sally Szuster, a spokeswoman for the UJA Federation of Toronto.

Key Links 
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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Europe Raises Pressure on Israel to Stop Settlements - Allyn Fisher-Ilan
    Germany, France and EU president Sweden on Tuesday joined Western nations pressing Israel to stop building in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank under a U.S.-led effort to resume stalled peace talks. (Reuters-Washington Post)
        See also State Department: Financial Sanctions on Israel "Premature" - Herb Keinon
    Asked at a press briefing whether the U.S. was considering putting financial pressure on Israel to get it to comply with U.S. demands, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Tuesday: "It's premature to talk about that."  (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Text of State Department Briefing
    Q: "Would the U.S. be ready to exert some financial pressures on Israel to convince the government to stop settlements?"
        Wood: "It's premature to talk about that. What we're trying to do, as I said, right now is to create an environment which makes it conducive for talks to go forward. And as I said, Senator Mitchell is working very hard on this. And what we all need to do in the international community is support this effort, and that means Americans, that means Arabs and Israelis, to do what they can to kind of foster a climate in which the two sides can come together and negotiate their differences peacefully so that we can get to that two-state solution."  (State Department)
  • Clinton Says U.S. Considers "Defense Umbrella" to Deter a Nuclear Iran - David Gollust
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in Thailand that the U.S. has not given up hope that Iran can still be persuaded to scrap a uranium enrichment project believed to be weapons-related. But she says, if Iran acquires a nuclear weapons capacity, the U.S. will respond with "crippling" actions and is prepared to offer regional allies a "defense umbrella" to prevent Iranian intimidation. (VOA News)
        See also Israeli Minister Criticizes Clinton Statement on Nuclear Iran - Barak Ravid
    Dan Meridor, Israel's minister for secret services, told Army Radio that Clinton's statement regarding "a defense umbrella" for its allies in the Middle East implies a willingness to reconcile with the eventuality of a nuclear-armed Iran. "I heard, unenthusiastically, the Americans' statement that they will defend their allies in the event that Iran arms itself with an atomic bomb, as if they have already reconciled with this possibility, and this is a mistake....Now, we don't need to deal with the assumption that Iran will attain nuclear weapons but to prevent this."  (Ha'aretz)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • U.S. Officials Heading for Israel - Herb Keinon
    Senior White House adviser Dennis Ross will join an already crowded list of top U.S. officials traveling to Israel next week, a step interpreted positively in Jerusalem as an attempt by the Obama administration to engage more constructively with Jerusalem. Ross will come in the same week as Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and National Security Adviser James Jones. Asked about the sudden surge in high-level U.S. visitors, one senior Israeli diplomatic official said, "It's about time. It's much better that the two countries discuss the issues between them face-to-face, and not through the media."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Hamas Laying Low in West Bank - Yaakov Katz
    Hamas has been severely weakened in the West Bank in recent years and has lowered its profile out of fear its men will be captured by the PA and the IDF. It is operating a number of terrorist cells in every major city that are completely compartmentalized to ensure survivability, according to the latest military assessments. "Hamas is very weak and today is working mostly on surviving and retaining its capabilities for a time sometime in the future when it decides to attack," a senior IDF officer explained on Tuesday. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Blast Injures Forty in Gaza at Fatah Member's Wedding - Ali Waked
    Some 40 people were injured, 14 of them seriously, in a blast during the wedding of former PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan's relative in Khan Yunis on Tuesday. The injured are all family members and Fatah activists. A Gaza source said the explosion was caused by an explosive charge placed under the stage on which the bridegroom was sitting and the guests were dancing. "There was another device which did not explode. Had it been detonated, no one would have escaped alive," the source said. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • An Israeli Consensus for Jewish Sovereignty in Jerusalem - Daniel Pipes
    The U.S. decision to get tough with Israel translates into escalating Palestinian demands on Israel. PA chief Mahmoud Abbas complained to the Americans about the construction of 20 apartments and an underground garage in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik. The State Department promptly instructed Israel's ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, to halt the building project.
        Zionist Jews founded the Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood in 1891 by purchasing the land from Arabs, then, due to Arab riots and Jordanian conquest, abandoned the area. Amin al-Husseini, Jerusalem's pro-Nazi mufti, put up a building in the 1930s that later served as the Shepherd Hotel. After 1967, the Israelis designated the land "absentee property." The administration picked a fight on an issue where an Israeli consensus exists - not over a remote "outpost" but a Jerusalem quarter boasting a Zionist pedigree back to 1891. The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. (Philadelphia Bulletin)
        See also An Unwise Line in the Sand - Benny Avni (New York Post)
  • Jerusalem - One City, Undivided - Jeff Jacoby
    Last week, the U.S. demanded that the Israeli government pull the plug on a planned housing development near the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem because Sheikh Jarrah is in a largely Arab section of Jerusalem, and the developers of the planned apartments are Jews. The administration would never demand that Israel prevent Arabs from moving into a Jewish neighborhood. In the 21st century, segregation is unthinkable - except, it seems, when it comes to housing Jews in Jerusalem. During Israel's War of Independence in 1948, the Jordanian Arab Legion invaded eastern Jerusalem and expelled all its Jews - many from families that had lived in the city for centuries.
        For the next 19 years, eastern Jerusalem was barred to Jews. Dozens of Jewish holy places, including synagogues hundreds of years old, were desecrated or destroyed. Jerusalem's most sacred Jewish shrine, the Western Wall, became a slum. In 1967, after Jordan was routed in the Six-Day War, Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli sovereignty and religious freedom restored to all.
        U.S. policy, laid out in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, recognizes Jerusalem as "a united city administered by Israel" and formally declares that "Jerusalem must remain an undivided city." As a presidential candidate, Obama said the same thing: "Jerusalem will remain Israel's capital, and no one should want or expect it to be re-divided."  (Boston Globe)
  • Obstacles to Restarting a Peace Process - Tony Karon
    Whatever his intentions, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas' political weakness has effectively neutered him as an effective peace interlocutor. He is engaged in an epic power struggle with Hamas, which not only controls Gaza but also is the ruling party of the democratically elected Palestinian legislature. And his influence is waning even in his own Fatah organization. It has become conventional wisdom internationally that no credible peace process is possible without the consent of Hamas.
        Egypt-mediated talks aimed at reconciling Hamas and Fatah continue, but little progress is expected because Hamas has little incentive to make the concessions that Fatah is demanding. Hamas believes it has the momentum at home and abroad. Just last week, it was revealed that Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, had met with Hamas leaders, though the Obama administration continues to insist that it will not engage with Hamas until the organization renounces violence, recognizes Israel and abides by past agreements. Meanwhile, Abbas is under pressure from Fatah leaders who openly challenge his fealty to Washington. (TIME)
  • Observations:

    Revisiting Obama's Riyadh Meeting - Laura Rozen (Foreign Policy)

    • Two sources, one a former U.S. official who recently traveled to Riyadh and one a current official, say President Obama's meeting with Saudi King Abdullah last month did not go well from Obama's perspective. What's more, the former official says that Dennis Ross has told associates that part of what prompted Obama to bring him on as his special assistant and NSC senior director for the "Central Region" last month was the president's feeling that the preparation for the trip was insufficient. The White House vigorously disputes all of that, some of which was previously reported by the New York Times.
    • Sources say Obama was hoping to persuade the king to be ready to show reciprocal gestures to Israel, which Washington has been pushing to halt settlements with the goal of advancing regional peace and the creation of a Palestinian state. "The more time goes by, the more the Saudi meeting was a watershed event," said the former U.S. official.
    • Another official said last month that the 85-year-old Saudi monarch had launched a tirade during Obama's long meeting in Riyadh, and that other Saudi officials had later apologized to the U.S. president for the king's behavior. The official seemed to imply that the tirade was related to Israel, and that the king may be showing his age.
    • "I can't imagine Obama pressing the Israelis on settlements without expecting the Arabs to do something," University of Vermont Saudi and Persian Gulf expert F. Gregory Gause told Foreign Policy, while saying he had no specific knowledge about the meeting. "He is pushing the Israelis, but he wants to show that in pushing them, it's also bringing the Arabs closer" to peace with Israel. "He wants the Saudis to make some gesture to make it easier for the Israelis to stop settlements." "And my reading of the Saudis," Gause continued, "is they are not interested."

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