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September 1, 2009

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In-Depth Issue:

Hamas Slams UN over "Holocaust Classes" in Gaza - Nidal al-Mughrabi (Reuters)
  Hamas condemned the United Nations Sunday, saying it planned to teach Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip about the Holocaust -- but the U.N. agency which runs schools in the enclave would not confirm any change.
  Branding the Nazi genocide of the Jews "a lie invented by the Zionists," the Islamist movement which runs the Gaza Strip wrote in an open letter to a senior U.N. official that he should withdraw plans for a new history book in U.N. schools.
  A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which educates some 200,000 refugee children in Gaza, said the Holocaust was not on its current curriculum.


Following Inflammatory Article, Sweden to Join EU Condemnation of Anti-Semitism - Adar Primor (Ha'aretz)
  In a telephone conversation with Ha'aretz, Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini said he recently met with his Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, and the two agreed that at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers later this week, they will work to pass a resolution making it clear that the EU, under the Swedish presidency, strongly condemns anti-Semitism and will take action against any manifestation of it on the continent.
  The accusations of Israeli organ harvesting in the Aftonbladet article are "terrible conclusions, lying and hurtful, and they have the power to assist all those who seek to incite against Jews or who oppose the existence of the State of Israel," he added.
    See also Sweden's Foreign Minister Denies Report (The Local - Sweden)
In a further twist to this diplomatic crisis that swings from the bad to the farcical, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has flatly denied that he and Frattini even discussed Sweden’s standoff with Israel, according to the Swedish news agency TT.
  “From the Swedish side we have no plans to handle this question through the informal foreign ministers’ meeting in Stockholm,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman. She also conveyed that Bildt had suggested that the proposal must have arisen through an “Italian misunderstanding.”
  


Was Russia's 'Hijacked' Ship Carrying Missiles to the Mideast? - Simon Shuster (Time)
  In July, the Russian-manned cargo ship, the Arctic Sea, disappeared on its way to take timber from Finland to Algeria, sparking reports of the first incident of piracy in European waters since the days of the buccaneers. Since then, the Russian navy has found the ship, and the alleged hijackers who boarded it on July 24 have been charged with kidnapping and piracy. The ship's captain, his crew and whatever cargo the ship was carrying have also been detained. There are baffling details left unexplained, leading some experts to claim that the truth is much more sinister: the Arctic Sea, they say, was intercepted by Israel as it carried a secret cargo of weapons to the Middle East.


Turkey and Armenia to Establish Diplomatic Ties - Sebnem Arsu (New York Times)
  Turkey and Armenia, whose century of hostilities constitutes one of the world’s most enduring and acrimonious international rivalries, have agreed to establish diplomatic relations, the two countries announced Monday.


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News Resources - North America and Europe:

  • Obama to Moderate Meeting with Israeli, Palestinian Leaders, Says Shimon Peres
    In an exclusive interview, Israeli President Shimon Peres said President Obama is expected to moderate a planned summit between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which could lead to a resumption of peace negotiations, at the end of September at the United Nations. Peres suggested that President Obama is putting too much focus on trying to halt settlement construction in the Palestinian territories, urging all sides to broaden the scope of Mideast peace talks. (Fox News)
        See also Settlement Housing Starts Drop by a Third in First Half of Year - Tovah Lazaroff
    Housing starts in Judea and Samaria fell by 33.7 percent in the first six months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008, according to Central Bureau of Statistics data released on Monday. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not approved any new West Bank construction projects since taking office on March 31. Peace Now says that no new settlement projects have been approved since November. (Jerusalem Post)  
      See also White House: Obama Postponed Israel Trip Due to Healthcare Reform - Yitzhak Benhorin
    The National Security Council suggested that U.S. President Barack Obama travel to Israel in the coming months, but the trip was postponed due to the political dispute surrounding healthcare reform, White House officials told Ynet. (Ynet News)
  • Germany, France Reinforce Iran Sanctions Threat
    Germany and France have reinforced a call for Iran to respond to concerns about its nuclear program in September or face tougher sanctions. French President Nicolas Sarkozy says "initiatives must be taken during the month of September which take account of Iran's will or otherwise to cooperate." He says that, if it does not, "Germany and France will be united in calling for a strengthening of sanctions." The German government says officials from six countries trying to address concerns about Iran's nuclear program will meet Wednesday in Germany. (AP)
  • Remnants of Iraq Air Force Are Found in Serbia - Rod Nordland
    The Iraqi Defense Ministry revealed Sunday that it owns 19 MIG-21 and MIG-23 jet fighters which are in storage in Serbia. Serbian defense officials told the Iraqis that Saddam Hussein had sent 19 fighter jets to Serbia for repairs in the late 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, but was unable to bring them back after sanctions were imposed on his country. The American military’s training command has recently arranged for the delivery of Iraq’s first trainer for jet pilots, the propeller-driven T-6, in December. The T-6 is used to train pilots for the F-16 jet, but plans for Iraq to buy F-16s are still in the discussion stage, American officials say. (New York Times)
        See also Iraqi Planes Found in Serbia in Pieces - Dusan Stojanovic
    Serbian officials say that if Iraq plans to use them to rebuild its air force, their hopes will be dashed: Most of the planes, they said, are cannibalized, abandoned and useless. (AP)
  • News Resources - Israel, the Mideast, and Asia:

  • Israeli-Arab Indicted for Hizbullah Plot against IDF's Chief of Staff - Yaakov Katz
    Hizbullah recruited an Israeli-Arab and ordered him to collect intelligence on IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ahead of plans to assassinate him to avenge the death of the guerrilla group's military leader Imad Mughniyeh. On Monday, an indictment was filed at the Petah Tikva District Court against Rawi Sultani, a 23-year-old Israeli-Arab from the town of Tira, alleging that he was recruited by Hizbullah in the summer of 2008 when he traveled to Morocco to attend a Balad Party summer camp. The suspect provided him information about Ashkenazi, particularly his routine at the Kfar Saba country club where the two occasionally worked out together. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Iraq's Prime Minister Blames Syria for Terror in Iraq
    Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki said yesterday that 90 per cent of foreign terrorists who infiltrate Iraq did so via Syria, a charge likely to worsen already fractured relations between the neighboring states. "We demand that the Syrian side hand over the main people wanted in this crime," he said, alluding to Baathist suspects Mohammed Yunis Al Ahmed and Sattam Farhan, "and many others who have Interpol warrants against them." Syrian President Bashar Assad yesterday dismissed the Iraqi accusations, calling the allegations "immoral" and politically motivated. (Gulf Daily News - Bahrain)
  • Northern Israel Local Leaders and Jenin Governor Visit U.S. to Promote Jewish Arab Coexistence - E. B. Solomont
    The Jewish chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council and his Arab deputy met on Monday with the Palestinian governor of Jenin in New York City. In the United States to promote their unique social and economic partnership, the trio promoted their grassroots cooperation as a bridge to broader Israeli-Palestinian relations.
      "We are sitting now on one table," said Qadoura M. Qadoura, governor of Jenin, as he sat alongside Danny Atar and Eid Saleem. Finding a "common language," they said, is imperative to peace and stability in the region. Of the Gilboa region's 30,000 residents, 60 percent are Jewish and 40 percent are Arab.
      Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which hosted the Monday meeting, said the fact that 20 percent of Israel's population is not Jewish showed the need for such partnerships. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran Enters Its Stalinist Phase - Barry Rubin
    The post-election trials of the opposition in Tehran resemble the Soviet purge trials of the 1930s. At the time, every aspect of Soviet life was reduced to worshipping Stalin. Institutions were purged; formerly respected leaders put on trial, admitting they were fascist-capitalist agents, and being finished off with a bullet to the head. To say this is happening in Iran now would be an exaggeration but parallels are striking.
      Iran's ruling group is becoming more, not less, militant. Being on the verge of getting nuclear weapons makes them feel stronger and able to be more aggressive, not the opposite. Those who think a nuclear Iran will be a secure and reasonable Iran are in for a big disappointment. (Ottawa Citizen)
  • Increased Safeguards at Natanz: What Does It All Mean? - Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich
    A much anticipated IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear activities was leaked this week. The report indicates that, among other things, Iran has conceded to additional safeguard at Natanz. This is a welcome development but occurring amidst a contested Iranian election, European threats of increased sanctions, continuing oblique hints of Israeli military action, and U.S. talk of cutting off Iranian gasoline imports if nuclear talks are rejected. How important are these increased safeguards? Do they represent a change of course for Iran?
      From a technical perspective, we believe that Iranian concessions on enhancing safeguards at Natanz do not present a fundamental change nor do they cause Iran much inconvenience. The changes are proportionate with the continued build up in the number of centrifuges and failure to implement them would have soon amounted to a violation of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement.
      We should not read much political significance into Iran’s acceptance of additional safeguards. Whether Iran is cooperating with inspections because of, or in spite of, the threat of increased sanctions, their centrifuge program is continuing. Indeed, cooperation with the IAEA helps to weaken international political support for sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program. We believe that agreeing to additional safeguards monitoring is not, by itself, an indication that Iran is willing to sit down at the negotiating table, let alone give up its centrifuge program. (Federation of American Scientists)
  • Observations:

    ElBaradei’s Swan Song - Emanuele Ottolenghi (Commentary Magazine)

  • Over the years, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, has not been especially effective in stifling would-be nuclear proliferators. First, there was his adamant opposition to the war in Iraq — despite Iraq’s history of concealment of WMD programs, and then there was the embarrassing discovery of Libya’s nuclear program.
  • Last week, ElBaradei delivered what could be his last IAEA report on Iran before leaving the agency. It notes that Iran is stalling on critical and sensitive aspects of its military nuclear program, but at the same time much of the emphasis is on Iran’s recent (and belated and limited) compliance on a number of issues.
  • ElBaradei’s swan song is thus typical — diffuse, noncommittal, and befogging to the end. It praises Iran for token gestures and delicately refuses to compromise its evenhandedness by taking on the mullahs’ more serious stonewalling or countering their claims that evidence about their nuclear program is fabricated. Nevertheless, four important points emerge:
  •     1. Iran is still not answering questions about the military dimensions of its program, which evidence in the hands of the IAEA shows cannot be denied.
        2. Iran is accumulating low-enriched uranium (LEU) at a rate of approximately 2.77 kgs a day, which means it will have enough LEU for a second weapon by February 2010. At the current pace, it is producing enough LEU to yield enough weapons-grade material, once the LEU is reprocessed, to build one weapon a year.
        3. Iran’s installed centrifuges currently number 8,308 — a steady increase in machinery (though not in active machines) over the past few months.
        4. Iran refuses to apply the revised code of its safeguards agreement with regard to designs of new facilities and modifications of existing ones. This is especially worrisome when it comes to the power plant scheduled to be built in Darkhovin, the designs of which IAEA inspectors have not seen.

        See also Syrian Noncompliance and Nuclear Proliferation - Emanuele Ottolenghi (Commentary Magazine)
  • The IAEA also released its progress report on Syria’s nuclear activities last week, alongside the much more publicized document on Iran. It should be required reading in Washington among supporters of re-engaging Damascus. The agreement includes a nonproliferation clause that commits Syria to “fulfill existing obligations under disarmament and non-proliferation instruments.”
  •  The IAEA report says that Syria has not yet provided the necessary cooperation to permit the Agency to determine the origin of the anthropogenic natural uranium particles found in samples taken at the Dair Alzour site. Syria also did not cooperate with the Agency to confirm Syria’s statements regarding the non-nuclear nature of the destroyed building on the Dair Alzour site and to determine what, if any, functional relationship existed between the Dair Alzour site and three other locations, or to substantiate Syria’s claims regarding certain procurement efforts and its alleged foreign nuclear cooperation.

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