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December 31, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Israel Closes Decade with Population of 7.5 Million (TheMarker-Ha'aretz)
    Israel's population at the end of 2009 was 7.5 million, including 5.7 million Jews (75.4%), 1.5 million Arabs (20.3%), and 319,000 Christians and others, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Wednesday.
    Israel's population has grown at a steady rate of 1.8% every year since 2003.

Israel's Economy Grew in 2009 Against All Expectations - Adrian Filut (Globes)
    Israel's economy grew in 2009 against all expectations, and in contrast to other developed economies in the world.
    The Central Bureau of Statistics reported Thursday that in 2009, Israel's economy grew 0.5%, in contrast to an OECD average of negative 3.5%.

Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei Loves Caviar and Vulgar Jokes, Defector Claims - Damien McElroy and Ahmad Vahdat (Telegraph-UK)
    A defector from the private guard of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, has given the first comprehensive account of the private life of the secretive figure who has led the country for 20 years.
    Among his claims are that Ayatollah Khamenei has a voracious appetite for trout and caviar; is an avid hoarder of collectables from bejeweled pipes and antique walking sticks to fine horses; and that he suffers regular bouts of depression which are treated in part by audiences with a mid-ranking mullah who tells vulgar jokes.
    Two of his palaces - Naviran and Valikabad - are equipped with deep, reinforced concrete nuclear bunkers said to be capable of withstanding nuclear attack.

Lebanon Fears Al-Qaeda Has UNIFIL Forces in Sights - Roee Nahmias (Ynet News)
    Lebanese security officials said Wednesday that they have received information indicating that al-Qaeda is looking to infiltrate the country with the aim of targeting UNIFIL forces and damage Lebanese and Western interests.
    The officials told Radio Sawa that al-Qaeda operatives arriving from Pakistan and other Muslim countries are infiltrating Lebanon through the Syrian border.

Israeli Medical Team Saves Sight in Myanmar - Nirit Bourla and Nadav Belfair (Ynet News)
    A seven-person, two-week mission to Myanmar that included four surgical ophthalmologists, sponsored by Eye from Zion, a non-profit humanitarian organization, performed scores of surgeries to improve or save local patients' eyesight.

Useful Reference:

The Peace Process with the Palestinians: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Arab League Wants Bigger UN Role in Middle East - Yasmine Saleh
    Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told Reuters Tuesday that the UN must play a bigger role in trying to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the U.S. should not be the only mediator. "There should be a change in the direction of the peace process, by having a mediator who understands the needs of the two parties, and not one party," he said. "The United Nations role, which was marginalized at a certain stage with regard to the Arab-Israeli struggle, should be brought back," he added. (Reuters)
  • Iran's Revolutionary Guard Behind Britons' Baghdad Kidnapping - Mona Mahmood, Maggie O'Kane and Guy Grandjean
    Five British men kidnapped in Iraq in 2007 were taken in an operation led and masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guard, according to an extensive investigation by the Guardian. The men - including Peter Moore, who was released Wednesday after more than two years in captivity - were taken to Iran within a day of their kidnap from a government ministry building in Baghdad. They were incarcerated in prisons run by the al-Quds force, a unit that specializes in foreign operations on behalf of the Iranian government.
        One of the kidnappers told the Guardian that three of the Britons - Jason Creswell, Jason Swindlehurst and Alec Maclachlan - were subsequently killed after the British government refused to take ransom demands seriously. Moore was released in exchange for the release by the Iraqi government of Shia cleric Qais al-Khazali, a leading figure in the Righteous League, a proxy of the al-Quds force. (Guardian-UK)
  • Egypt's Gaza Wall Months from Completion - Dan Williams
    An underground wall that Egypt is building along its border with Gaza will significantly stem Palestinian arms smuggling when it is completed, an Israeli military officer said on Wednesday. However, the officer said it may be months before it is finished. "The wall definitely has the potential to make things difficult, though it (smuggling) won't stop hermetically," an Israeli military officer said. "There has certainly been an effect already. It's driving Hamas crazy." Citing an Egyptian intelligence source, Israel's Yediot Ahronot said the wall would run as deep as 30 meters and would be rigged with sensors and pressurized hoses to flood tunnels with seawater. (Reuters)
        See also Egypt Defends Right to Build Gaza Wall
    Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit on Wednesday defended Egypt's right to secure its border in the government daily al-Akhbar, saying: "What Egypt is doing is placing structures on its territory related to Egyptian defense." Egypt has repeatedly defended increased security at the border as necessary for maintaining its sovereignty and national security. (DPA/Ha'aretz)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Jerusalem Mayor: To Halt Construction Only for Jews Would Be Illegal Anywhere in the World
    Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Wednesday that the demand to halt construction in Jerusalem only for Jews would not be legal anywhere in the world, Israel Radio reported. (Ha'aretz)
  • Dozens of Terror Infiltrations by Gazans Foiled in 2009 - Yaakov Katz
    Dozens of attempts by Palestinian terror groups from Gaza to infiltrate Israel via the porous Egyptian border were thwarted throughout 2009, the Israel Security Agency revealed on Wednesday in its annual report. The Gaza terrorists crossed into Sinai and then tried to enter Israel armed with explosives or weaponry. A majority of the infiltration attempts across the Egyptian border were made by Palestinian terrorists affiliated with groups in Gaza aligned with al-Qaeda and global Jihad. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Two Jerusalem Arabs Jailed for Plotting to Kidnap IDF Soldiers - Nir Hasson
    Two Arab residents of Jerusalem were jailed for two years Wednesday after admitting to conspiring to kidnap Israeli soldiers. Ayad Avid and Abdullah Avid from Issawiyah planned to use a tractor to ram a military jeep before kidnapping the soldiers inside at gunpoint. The two were also found guilty of setting fire to a ballot box during local Jerusalem elections last year, when they threatened a panel of electoral supervisors, removed a ballot box and set it alight outside. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Why Abbas Does Not Want to Resume Peace Talks - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The leaders of the Palestinian Authority have reached the conclusion that, under the current circumstances, it would be a waste of time to return to the negotiating table with Israel. They are convinced that the only way to get anything is by rallying pressure from the international community against Israel. It is for this reason that representatives of the Palestinians have been negotiating with the Europeans and Americans about the peace process - not with Israel. They believe that Israel is more isolated than ever in the international arena, particularly in light of the UN's Gaza War report, the "Goldstone Report."
        The Palestinian leadership has chosen to confront Israel in the international arena, and not at the negotiating table. Yet by negotiating with Abbas and his government, Western governments are, in fact, keeping the Palestinians from resuming peace talks with Israel. (Hudson Institute New York)
  • In the Face of Protests, Iran's Leaders Are at an Impasse - Ray Takeyh
    The mayhem that has swept over Iran in the past few days is once more calling into question the Islamic Republic's longevity. Recent events are eerily reminiscent of the revolution that displaced the monarchy in 1979. While it is premature to proclaim the immediate demise of the theocratic regime, it is obvious that the lifespan of the Islamic Republic has been considerably shortened. The most remarkable aspect about the events in Iran has been the opposition's ability to sustain itself and to generate vast rallies while deprived of a national organizational network, a well-articulated ideology and charismatic leaders.
        The Obama administration should take a cue from Ronald Reagan and persistently challenge the legitimacy of the theocratic state and highlight its human rights abuses. Even if the regime accommodates international concerns about its nuclear program, the U.S. must stand firm in its support for human rights and economic pressure against the Revolutionary Guards and other organs of repression. The writer is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. (Washington Post)
  • Why the Mullahs Are Vulnerable - Con Coughlin
    Six months after President Ahmadinejad's hotly disputed election victory, the Green protest movement shows no sign of abating. Rather than being quelled by the regime's brutal response - as happened during the antigovernment protests of 1999 and 2003 - the protestors' resolve has been strengthened and the opposition movement has grown substantially.
        Iran's mounting international isolation over its nuclear program was one of the issues that encouraged the anti-government protesters to take to the streets in the first place. So was the Ahmadinejad government's ruinous handling of the economy. What the events of the past week have amply demonstrated is that the overwhelming majority of Iranians are desperate for change in the way their country is governed. The writer is executive foreign editor of London's Daily Telegraph. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Observations:

    What Israel Can Teach Us about Airport Security - Cathal Kelly (Toronto Star)

    • While North America's airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, the experts keep asking: How can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deals with far greater terror threats with far less inconvenience? "It is mind-boggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy.
    • Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?
    • The first layer of security that greets travelers is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked: How are you? Where are you coming from? "Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.
    • Armed guards outside the terminal observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behavior. Inside the terminal, as you approach the airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer asks additional questions. "The whole time, they are looking into your eyes - which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not," said Sela. At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a special area.
    • Five security layers down, you now arrive at the body and hand-luggage check. "But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America," Sela said. "First, it's fast - there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes....They just look at you...and that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."
    • Sela maintains that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would not have gotten past Ben-Gurion's behavioral profilers. "You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit - technology, training...but you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security."

          See also Aviation Security and the Israeli Model (New York Times)

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