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October 9, 2009

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Iran Claims World Surplus of Refinery Capacity Will Break Any Gasoline Embargo (Fars-Iran)
    Iranian Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi said Wednesday that Iran is able to break any embargo on the country's imported gasoline by adding new suppliers.
    The U.S. is exploring ways of targeting fuel imports into Iran if the country continues to press on with its nuclear program.
    On Monday, Farid Ameri, managing director of the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company, said the current world economic situation made it impossible to cut off gasoline supplies to Iran.
    "Given the 7% negative growth of the developed countries and the likelihood of the insolvency of many refinery companies, any discussion of imposing an embargo on the supply of gasoline to Iran on the global markets is futile," he said.
    "There is at present a great surplus of refinery capacity, and, to avoid insolvency, refining companies must produce and sell refined products."

Islamist Pleads Guilty in Toronto Terror Plot - Ian Austen (New York Times)
    Zakaria Amara pleaded guilty on Thursday to leading a plot to blow up the Toronto Stock Exchange, the Toronto office of Canada's intelligence service, and a military base in a bid to create chaos to force Canada to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
    Amara organized training camps that featured extremist Islamic teachings and military-style exercises, and was arrested in June 2006 after receiving what he believed to be three metric tons of fertilizer for making bombs.
    The group had been infiltrated by two police informants and its actions were under intense surveillance by police and intelligence agencies.

Gaza Smuggling Tunnel Investors Lose $500 Million - Jonathan Ferziger (Bloomberg)
    Some 4,000 Gazans gave cash to middlemen in 2008 for a scheme to invest in smuggling tunnels, but the investments have now collapsed, with investors losing as much as $500 million.
    "Our scandal is much worse than Madoff," said Omar Shaban, director of Pal-Think, an economic research institute in Gaza City.
    "There is no transparency, no public records, no regulators, none of the mechanisms that would let you trace what happened to all the money that people invested in the tunnels," said Samir Abdullah, the PA's former planning minister.
    Hamas is blamed for encouraging the investments. "The imam told us that we wouldn't regret joining this blessed business," said Nabila Ghabin, 43. "This happened in mosques all over Gaza."
    Pal-Think's Shaban said: "Thousands of families lost their money and they hold Hamas responsible."
    Ihab al-Ghusin, a spokesman for the Hamas Ministry of Interior, said: "We discovered that a well-known businessman identified as Ihab al-Kurd is behind this scheme.... Al-Kurd was initially jailed but later released after his property was confiscated."

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Al-Qaeda Wages War on China (Jerusalem Post)
    Al-Qaeda spokesmen announced Thursday that its militants would target China's Muslim-dominated "East Turkestan" region, in what is today Xinjiang, and begin work towards "freeing their Muslim country."
    "Our Muslim brethren in Turkestan must know that the only way to be rid of the oppression and exploitation [of Muslims in China] Jihad."

Jews Have More Claim to Jerusalem than the French in Paris or Germans in Berlin - Malcolm Hedding (Jerusalem Post)
    Benjamin Disraeli, the prime minister of the United Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century, told detractors who heckled him as a Jew when he rose to speak in parliament: "My people were kings in Jerusalem while you were still scratching around in the fields for mushrooms."
    The point is, Jerusalem was the capital of Israel long before Berlin or New York even existed. The city has been the capital of only one people, and that is the Jewish people.
    When the Ottoman Turks conquered the region and reigned over it for 400 years, they never treated the city as anything more than a backwater provincial town.
    How strange it is then that the world believes that the ancient biblical city should not be Jewish.
    The Jews have more claim to Jerusalem than the French have to Paris or the Germans to Berlin or the British to London.
    The writer is executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Egypt Sees Increasing Use of Face Veil as Lurch Toward Fundamentalism - Samer al-Atrush (AFP)
    Most Muslim women in Egypt wear the hijab, which covers the hair, but the niqab, which covers the entire face, is becoming more popular on the streets of Cairo, a trend that worries the government as it battles a lurch toward fundamentalism.
    This week, Mohammed Tantawi, head of the Islamic Al-Azhar University and the country's top religious authority, said he intends to ban the niqab at the university. The Ministry of Religious Endowments has distributed booklets explaining that wearing a niqab is un-Islamic.
    The majority of mainstream Muslim scholars say the niqab is unnecessary. It is commonly associated with followers of Salafism, an ultra-conservative school of thought mostly practiced in Saudi Arabia.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Abbas Facing Leadership Crisis - Richard Boudreaux
    Hounded by his moderate supporters and militant rivals alike, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is facing a leadership crisis that will make it harder for the Obama administration to draw him into peace talks with Israel. He made two concessions that ignited fury at home and across the Arab world: First he joined President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for a meeting in New York last month to explore prospects for formal talks. Then last week he agreed, under American pressure, to postpone the Palestinians' demand for a UN Security Council debate on a UN report accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza. While Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has for months offered to resume talks, "I cannot imagine that Abbas can meet [U.S. envoy] Mitchell and simply agree to resume negotiations with Israel without preconditions," said Mouin Rabbani, a Palestinian political analyst based in Jordan. (Los Angeles Times)
        See also Abbas, Under Domestic Pressure, Organizes Rallies of Support - Khaled Abu Toameh
    In response to a fierce protest campaign against Mahmoud Abbas over his decision not to press Israel over the Goldstone report on Gaza, the PA has begun organizing demonstrations in support of Abbas in different parts of the West Bank. PA civil servants and schoolchildren have been ordered to take to the streets and demonstrate in favor of Abbas, eyewitnesses said. They said senior PA officials had threatened that anyone who refused to participate would be dismissed from their job. About 40 Palestinian organizations have launched a campaign aimed at pressuring Abbas to resign. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Palestinian Reconciliation Pact on Hold - Nidal al-Mughrabi
    Hamas has asked Egypt to postpone a meeting with its Fatah rival in Cairo on October 24-26 when they were expected to sign a reconciliation pact. A crowd in Gaza threw shoes at a defaced portrait of Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday and called him a traitor. Hamas, by contrast, is enjoying a wave of popularity for securing the release of 20 female prisoners from Israel last week in return for a video showing that the Israeli soldier it has held captive for three years is alive and well. (Reuters)
  • Israel, U.S. to Hold Joint Maneuvers - Dan Williams
    Israel and the U.S. will hold their biggest joint air-defense exercise next week, officials said, testing missile interceptors that would serve as a strategic bulwark in any future showdown with Iran. The Oct. 12-16 maneuvers, dubbed "Juniper Cobra," will be overseen by Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, chief of the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet. The first Juniper Cobra took place in 2001, when the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein's Iraq menaced Israel. Now Iran and its nuclear project are seen as the main threat. American forces taking part will include 17 ships and ground personnel operating the Aegis and THAAD missile interceptors, which will be meshed with Israel's Arrow II missile-killer for computer-simulated tests, an Israeli official said on Thursday. (Reuters)
        See also Turkey Opts Out of Military Maneuvers with Israel
    Turkey decided on Friday to opt out of air force maneuvers in which military aircraft from Israel, the U.S., Italy, and NATO will be taking part, local media reported. The "Anatolian Eagle" maneuvers were scheduled to take place at Konya air base in Turkey on Oct. 12-24. Israel has participated in joint military training 15 times under a treaty ratified between Turkey and Israel in 1996. (Kuwait News Agency)
  • EU Backs UN Gaza Report
    The European Union backed on Thursday a contentious UN report blasting Israel's military offensive in Gaza. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU presidency, praised its chief author and said the document is "worthy of consideration." In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: "Anyone who had bothered reading the report and not just the headlines in the press would realize this is not an independent or professional investigation but a collection of claims brought forward by Hamas to the members of the panel. The Swedish foreign minister's words are very disappointing because they show that either he did not read the text or that he really did not understand what was written in it."  (AFP)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Arabs Continue Incitement Over "Threats" to Al-Aqsa Mosque - Jack Khoury and Avi Issacharof
    Hamas declared Friday to be a "day of rage" and called on its supporters to demonstrate at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Leading Muslim religious figure Sheikh Yousuf al-Qaradawi dubbed Friday "protect Al-Aqsa day." Israel's Islamic Movement also urged Muslims to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa. (Ha'aretz)
        See also PA Pushes Jerusalem Campaign After Diplomatic Setbacks - Aluf Benn
    Israel waged a successful diplomatic campaign to postpone discussion by the UN Human Rights Council of the Goldstone report on the Gaza operation. Netanyahu persuaded the U.S. administration that discussion of the report would thwart the possibility of renewed final status talks, and the Americans pressured Abbas to retreat from appealing to the UN. The PA searched for a way to respond and reacted to American-Israeli pressure by putting Jerusalem at the top of their agenda. Tensions surrounding the Temple Mount have increased, and Prime Minister Fayyad led appeals to foreign governments to "restrain" Israel.
        In trying to formulate a structure for renewing diplomatic talks, Netanyahu has demanded that the Palestinians commit themselves not to act against Israel in international forums and courts; if they have complaints, they should present them in direct talks. This is hard for the Palestinians to swallow: Their clear advantage in international organizations and world public opinion serves to counterbalance Israel's military superiority and its control on the ground. (Ha'aretz)
        See also PA Asks for UN to Intervene in Jerusalem
    Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki asked UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday for "immediate intervention to prevent Israel escalating the situation in Jerusalem."  (AFP)
        See also Violence Began with Palestinian Attack on French Tourists - Avi Issacharoff
    Two weeks of continuous incitement by the Islamic Movement's northern branch, members of the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian clerics has generated a particularly volatile mixture. On Sep. 25, the former mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, who delivers the Friday sermon at Al-Aqsa, called upon all Muslims to come and defend the place. He was joined by people from the extremist group Hizb al-Tahrir and by Fatah's Jerusalem minister Hatem Abd al-Kader. By Sep. 27, about 200 enraged Palestinians who had come to "defend" the mosque were waiting for "the Jewish fanatics." As a few tourists from France arrived, the "Al-Aqsa Faithful" were not sticklers for detail; they did not take the trouble to ascertain who the visitors were and immediately started throwing stones at them and at the police.
        Last Friday, the Islamic Movement convened the 14th annual "Al-Aqsa Is in Danger" rally in Umm al-Fahm, attracting thousands. Movement spokesman Zahi Nujeidat explained to Ha'aretz how claims that the Temple Mount is sacred to the Jews simply are not relevant. "It is better for the Jews to save themselves time and look for what they call the 'Temple Mount' somewhere else." Sheikh Kamal Khatib of the Islamic Movement explained Wednesday in an interview with Army Radio that he finds it unacceptable that "an [Israeli] Ethiopian policeman, a Negro, would ask a Muslim for his identity card" at the entrance to the Temple Mount compound. (Ha'aretz)
  • No Breakthrough Expected During Mitchell Talks - Haviv Rettig Gur
    Although the Obama administration hoped Middle East envoy George Mitchell's current visit would yield an announcement on the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, American and Israeli officials on Thursday said they now have little hope of a breakthrough. According to one senior Israeli official, it is unclear whether PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is politically able to conduct meaningful negotiations. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Settlement Issue No Longer U.S.-Israel Flashpoint - Hilary Leila Krieger
    President Obama's low approval rating among Israelis must improve for the Israeli-Arab peace process to advance, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren told the Washington Hudson Institute think tank Thursday. Citing polls showing that just 4% of Israelis believed Obama is pro-Israel, he said that if the Israeli public didn't trust the Obama administration, it would be unwilling to take the risks necessary for a peace deal.
        At the same time, Oren said there is no "crisis" in U.S.-Israel relations. "There were certainly points where there could be significant friction," he said. "Much of this friction was reduced through extensive cooperation and communication between these two governments." "The settlement issue as a major, major flashpoint is gone," he maintained. "They have made significant progress on the idea of a time-limited freeze that would not really impact Jerusalem and that would provide for a certain amount of natural growth construction," he reported. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Rise of the Iranian Dictatorship - Geneive Abdo
    Since the June 12 Iranian presidential election stirred massive anti-regime demonstrations, President Ahmadinejad and his inner circle of hard-liners have used the armed forces - particularly the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) - to suppress dissent. Western observers have commented on the country's slide toward military dictatorship. The IRGC became a dominant institution in Iran - socially, politically, militarily, and economically - during Ahmadinejad's first term and the Revolutionary Guards returned the favor during the electoral campaign by intimidating opposition members and even, some in Iran allege, rigging the vote. (Foreign Policy)
  • The IAEA and Israel - Ephraim Asculai
    Israel was one of the founding members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which was established in 1957. Now having turned into a highly political body, the IAEA General Conference passed a resolution on Sept. 18, 2009, that "calls upon Israel to accede to the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under comprehensive IAEA safeguards." The resolution did not call on India and Pakistan, two countries that carried out underground nuclear tests, to accede to the NPT, and there was no resolution reprimanding Iran for its continuous non-adherence to IAEA requests for information on its suspect nuclear program. Interestingly, the vote on the "Israeli Resolution" was almost evenly split (49 voted for, 45, including most of the Western countries, against, and 16 abstained). (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)
  • New IAEA Director Must Show More Backbone - Editorial
    Even after Iran had been caught trying to conceal its nuclear facility near Qom, the head of the UN nuclear inspectors, Mohamed ElBaradei, said there was no "concrete proof" that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons. If the UN believes that, it will believe anything. At every stage, the Egyptian head of the IAEA has acted as though he were Iran's political shield. (Times-UK)
  • How Should Critics of Israel Relate to Indiscriminate Palestinian Terror? - Alexander Yakobson
    Some minimize the ill effects of the Palestinian "armed struggle," disparaging it as a display with nothing much to it, certainly not something that can threaten Israel or justify harsh steps that might be justified if a real threat were involved. Such descriptions avoid taking a clear moral stand against the intentional murder of civilians by the Palestinian terror groups - murder that is an inseparable and central part of their fighting method. During the second intifada, the Palestinian armed struggle killed more than 1,000 Israelis - more than the number of Israelis killed in the first and second Lebanon wars together, or in the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition or the Sinai Campaign.
        How should a person whose attitude toward Israel is critical or negative relate to indiscriminate Palestinian terror? Perhaps we may take the example of Marek Edelman, the Bundist, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, who died recently. All his life he was a staunch opponent of Zionism and a harsh critic of Israel and its policies. A few years ago he wrote an open letter to the Palestinian "partisans" - a name that angered many. Edelman told them that murdering civilians was a cruel crime that could not be justified under any circumstances. Here was an ideological adversary of Zionism who takes a truly universal and moral stand. He was not influenced by the fashionable theory that "partisans" may do anything they want, and we must not censure any cruel act they commit because they are weak and oppressed. (Ha'aretz)
  • The "Occupation" and the Six-Day War - Zalman Shoval
    President Obama's speech at the UN, with its reference to ending "the occupation that began in 1967," implies, perhaps unintentionally, that Israel's occupation of the West Bank is the cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This clearly inverts cause and effect. Terrorist activities against Israel had started years before the "occupation," and the PLO, committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, was founded in 1964.
        On May 13, 1967, the Egyptian dictator Gamel Abdel Nasser announced that two Egyptian divisions would move into the Sinai Peninsula bordering on southern Israel - contrary to international agreements, U.S. commitments and UN guarantees. Shortly after, Cairo announced that it would block all shipping to the port of Eilat, Israel's only maritime outlet in the south, while Egyptian Mig21 war planes began flying over Israeli territory. Concurrently, Syrian and Iraqi forces were ordered to prepare for an assault on northern Israel. On May 30, King Hussein of Jordan signed a military agreement with Egypt's Nasser, including a Jordanian commitment to join Egypt in any war with Israel. Its "Arab Legion" was put under Egyptian command.
        The rest is history. Israel achieved complete victory in a war of legitimate self-defense against blatant aggression whose declared aim had been its obliteration. Successive American leaders declared that Israel should never be asked to go back to its former vulnerable borders. This is what 1967 is all about: not "ending" occupation, but making sure that Israel will never again be put in a situation like the one it faced in 1967. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. (Jerusalem Post)
  • In Arab World, Fundamentalists and State-Owned Media Use Same Anti-Semitic Rhetoric - Aladdin Elaasar
    It is hard for those in the Arab and Muslim world to speak out against suicide bombers, Jihadists, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in their countries. What happened to the old days when Jews in Arab countries were the elite - movie stars, singers, writers, cabinet ministers? Why was it replaced by so much hatred, intolerance and bigotry against the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and anger directed towards America? Since the establishment of the State of Israel, many Arab regimes have taken a hard line against it, conveniently recycling crude anti-Semitic images for their public. The Palestinian issue has been effectively used by failing, dictatorial and oppressive Arab regimes to point the finger at an outside enemy to deflect their public's attention from nagging domestic issues.
        Conspiracy theories are rampant in the Middle East. Many people are made to believe that America and Israel are running the whole world and are behind every problem in their countries. The late President Nasser of Egypt imported former Nazi propaganda experts from the Third Reich and spread anti-Semitism through the whole region. Half the Arab countries are under brutal military dictatorships and the other half are under absolute monarchies. Whether secularist or seemingly religious, they both champion the Palestinian cause and exploit religion for political objectives. Fundamentalist groups find themselves using similar rhetoric to that of state-owned media across the Arab world. The writer, an Arab American journalist, is the author of The Last Pharaoh: Mubarak and the Uncertain Future of Egypt in the Obama Age, which has been banned by the Egyptian government. (Jerusalem Post)

    Weekend Features

  • Israeli Life Next to Gaza - Isabel Kershner
    At Moshav Yated in southern Israel, metal sculptor Yaron Bob fashions roses out of pieces of Kassam rockets fired out of Gaza at residents in the area. He chose to make roses, he said, because he was "looking for a new symbol of peace, and an answer to death." Last winter's war in Gaza has brought some quiet to Israeli communities along the border like this one, which lived under the constant threat of rocket fire from Gaza for much of the last eight years. But in some respects for the people here, the war is not over. Occasional rockets and mortar shells still puncture the calm, causing the population to relive the moments of panic. The international outcry over Israel's military conduct, meanwhile, has left many here feeling that the world is out of touch with their plight.
        Israelis in southern Israel have little patience for the international condemnation, and there is not much soul-searching underway. "People scoffed" at the Goldstone report, said Sasson Sara, the owner of a newspaper store in Sderot, the border town hit by thousands of rockets. Yafa Malka, a Sderot hairdresser, said, "I am very sorry for all those who were killed in Gaza, but I expect my country to defend me no matter how."  (New York Times)
  • Silicon Israel - George Gilder
    The most precious resource in the world economy is human genius, which we may define as the ability to devise significant inventions that enhance survival and prosperity. During the twentieth century, an astounding proportion of geniuses have been Jewish, and the fate of nations has largely reflected how they have treated their Jews. When Jews came to New York and Los Angeles, those cities towered over the global economy and culture. When Jews escaped Europe for Los Alamos and, more recently, for Silicon Valley, the world's economy and military balance shifted decisively. Israel has very recently become a center of innovation, second in absolute achievement only to the U.S., and on a per-capita basis dwarfing the contributions of all other nations, America included. How Israel is treated by the rest of the world thus represents a crucial test for civilization.
        Just as Hong Kong ultimately reshaped the Chinese economy in its own image, Israel could become a force for economic liberation in the Middle East, reaching out to Palestinians and other Arabs. After all, it has long been Israeli enterprise that has attracted Arabs to Palestine. Between 1967 and 1987, when the first intifada erupted, the West Bank and Gaza had one of the fastest-growing economies on earth. True peace lies waiting to be picked up by those Palestinians and Israelis who are willing to invest in creation over destruction. The writer is the author of The Israel Test. (City Journal)
  • Observations:

    Hamas in Combat - Yoram Cohen and Jeffrey White (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)

    • While Hamas is currently restraining its military activity, more violence can be expected in the future. Combat is the real test of any military force, and Hamas' performance in the Gaza operation in December-January can be used to assess its political and military capabilities.
    • Despite attempts to put a positive image on its performance, Hamas and its military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, accomplished little militarily, and their only real success was the continuation of rocket fire into Israel - which declined after three weeks of combat. While Israel did not press its military advantage, had it done so, the Israel Defense Forces undoubtedly could have destroyed Hamas' military capabilities.
    • Prior to the Gaza operation, Hamas had made military preparations a high priority. At the time of the operation, Hamas had a well developed military structure, with as many as 15,000 to 16,000 potential combatants. Its core was the Qassam Brigades with some 2,000 real combat troops. The Brigades had received considerable training and assistance as Hamas personnel from Lebanon, Syria, and Iran came to provide instruction. Advice and guidance provided to Hamas by Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran was also important.
    • Having planned carefully for an Israeli invasion, Hamas expected to mount an impressive defense. In addition, Hamas hoped to achieve an "image of victory" by carrying out acts such as kidnapping IDF soldiers, destroying tanks, or downing airplanes and helicopters. All told, Hamas fired around 600 rockets into southern Israel, including some 400 Kassams produced in Gaza and approximately 200 longer-range Iranian rockets that had been smuggled into the Strip.
    • Hamas had planned to stand and fight, but the Qassam Brigades proved unequal to the task. None of its ground combat measures worked, failing to match the public image Hamas had tried so hard to present of stalwart, proficient Islamic warriors. The war exposed fundamentally flawed expectations about the nature of war against Israel and raised questions about Hamas' combat capabilities.
    • Offensively, Hamas will likely follow in Hizbullah's footsteps by acquiring longer-range rockets with greater accuracy and more powerful warheads. Defensively, Hamas had no answer to IDF air and ground capabilities. For Hamas, being pounded in battle, with little to show for the effort, may instill caution with regard to future military engagement.

      Yoram Cohen served until recently as deputy director of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, is a thirty-four-year veteran of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.

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