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January 29, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Report: Hamas Military Commander "Assassinated" in Dubai (BBC News)
    A senior Hamas military commander has been assassinated by Israel in Dubai, the Palestinian Islamist group claims.
    Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, 50, a founder of Hamas' Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades, "died a martyr on 20 January in suspicious circumstances," a statement said.
    Mabhouh, who had been living in Syria, was suspected of having participated in the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989.
    The Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades has carried out hundreds of attacks and suicide bombings targeting Israeli troops and civilians.

Palestinian Official: PA's Corruption Will Enable Hamas Takeover - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the corrupt officials who used to work for Yasser Arafat, and that's why Hamas will one day take control of the West Bank, Fahmi Shabaneh, appointed by Abbas four years ago to root out corruption, said Thursday.
    "Unfortunately, Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the thieves and officials who were involved in theft of public funds and who became icons of financial corruption."
    Shabaneh, who until recently was in charge of the Anti-Corruption Department in the PA's General Intelligence Service, said, "Had it not been for the presence of the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, Hamas would have done what they did in Gaza."
    "It's hard to find people in the West Bank who support the Palestinian Authority. People are fed up with the financial corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority."
    Shabaneh asserted that Fatah personnel stole much of a $3.2 million donation given by the U.S. to Fatah ahead of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, won by Hamas, which had been intended to improve Fatah's image and boost its chances.
    Shabaneh said he was forced to quit his job several months ago after exposing a sex scandal involving one of Abbas' top aides.
    "I was offered $100,000 not to expose the last sex scandal, but I chose not to accept the bribe. I'm the one who resigned...because after all that I've seen, I no longer believe that Abbas' authority can be reformed."

Choosing Up Sides in the Middle East - Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    All Arab states pay lip service to the hardship of the Palestinians, but while Syria is embracing Iran and Hizbullah is more obedient than ever to instructions from Tehran, Egypt and Jordan are coordinating security matters with Israel in an impressive way.
    Israel and Egypt are finding themselves increasingly partners in common and growing interests. The Egyptians have also begun restricting the exit of senior Hamas officials through the Rafah crossing.
    Little, if any, of the $4 billion promised last year for the rebuilding of Gaza has reached Hamas and the group is finding it hard to show achievements in any area of management. Nonetheless, its rule in Gaza remains tight.

Israel Set to Launch New Spy Satellite - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    Israel will send a new spy satellite into space in the coming months, the Jerusalem Post has learned.
    Called Ofek 8, the satellite is currently in its final production stages at Israel Aerospace Industries. It will be placed in low orbit by the IAI-made Shavit launcher that was used for the Ofek 7 satellite in 2007.
    "This will significantly boost our intelligence-gathering capabilities," a defense official said. The Ofek 8 weighs about 300 kg. and can complete an orbit every 90 minutes.

Spain Takes Command of UN Force in Lebanon (AFP)
    Spanish General Alberto Asarta Cuevas took over command of the 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) from Italian General Claudio Graziano on Thursday.

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Mumbai Jewish Community Sends Men for Security Training in Israel - Cnaan Liphshiz (Ha'aretz)
    In the wake of the attacks in Mumbai, India, last year in which over 170 people, including nine Jews, were killed by Pakistani terrorists, the local Jewish community for the first time last month sent some 30 young men to Israel for security training, according to Yael Jirhad, who was attending the WIZO executive meeting in Tel Aviv.
    The trainees will soon form a volunteer security force for synagogues.

Israel's Heavy-Hauling UAVs - Barbara Opall-Rome (Defense News)
    The Israel Air Force's Eitan (Steadfast) heavy-hauling, multimission UAV will soon become operational.
    Produced by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Eitan - known internationally as the Heron TP - made its operational debut last winter during Israel's anti-rocket assault on Gaza.
    The 4.5-ton aircraft, whose wingspan nearly matches a Boeing 737's, flies automatically in high-altitude safety for 60 hours at a stretch, carrying one ton of specialized gear and other equipment tailored to various missions.

Palestine Replaces Israel on Globes - Hasani Gittens (NBC New York)
    A rally of Jewish leaders in New York took aim at Target stores Thursday for selling a globe that omits the name Israel but instead labels the region Palestine.
    A Target spokeswoman said: "We are no longer selling this product in our stores and we are sorry for offending our guests."

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. Senate Approves Sanctions on Iran's Fuel Suppliers
    The U.S. Senate approved legislation on Thursday that would let President Obama impose sanctions on Iran's gasoline suppliers and penalize some of Tehran's elites, a move aimed at pressing Tehran to give up its nuclear program. The sanctions would include the denial of loans and other assistance from American financial institutions to companies that export gasoline to Iran or help expand its oil-refining capacity. The penalties would extend to companies that build oil and gas pipelines in Iran and provide tankers to move Iran's petroleum. The measure prohibits the U.S. government from buying goods from foreign companies that do business in Iran's energy sector. The House has passed similar legislation. (Reuters-New York Times)
  • Obama: Both Palestinians and Israelis Have Legitimate Aspirations
    Speaking in Tampa on Thursday, President Obama said: "The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries. And it's an issue that elicits a lot of passions....Here's my view. Israel is one of our strongest allies. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us and I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region. So I make no apologies for that. What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education or get a job."
        "We are seeking a two-state solution in which Israel and the Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security. In order to do that, both sides are going to have to make compromises. As a first step, the Palestinians have to unequivocally renounce violence and recognize Israel. And Israel has to acknowledge legitimate grievances and interests of the Palestinians."
        "We know what a solution could look like in the region, but here's the problem that we're confronting right now, is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian territories, the politics are difficult; they're divided. The Israel government came in based on the support of a lot of folks who don't want to make a lot of concessions. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually making some effort to try to move a little bit further than his coalition wants him to go. On the other hand, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who I think genuinely wants peace, has to deal with Hamas, an organization that has not recognized Israel and has not disavowed violence. And so we are working to try to strengthen the ability of both parties to sit down across the table and to begin serious negotiations....We've got to recognize that both the Palestinian people and Israelis have legitimate aspirations."  (White House)
  • State of the Union Address Raises Doubts about Mideast Peace Process - Robert Berger
    For Israelis and Palestinians, it is not what President Obama said in his State of the Union address, but what he did not say. Obama did not mention the Mideast conflict. That is being interpreted as the U.S. taking a step back from the peace process, after a year of failed efforts to resume negotiations. Israeli analyst Eitan Gilboa says that with U.S. midterm elections coming up in November, Obama is likely to put the Israeli-Palestinian issue on the back burner. (VOA News)
  • Clinton: "Iran's Approach Leaves Us with Little Choice"
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday in London: "I...had a chance to discuss Iran's refusal to engage with the international community on its nuclear program. They continue to violate IAEA and Security Council requirements. We were disappointed by the Iranian government's rejection of an offer that would have built confidence by trading some of Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium for reactor fuel to meet the legitimate medical needs of the Iranian people. The revelation of Iran's secret nuclear facility at Qom has raised further questions about Iran's intentions. And in response to these questions, the Iranian government has provided a continuous stream of threats to intensify its violation of international nuclear norms. Iran's approach leaves us with little choice but to work with our partners to apply greater pressure in the hopes that it will cause Iran to reconsider its rejection of diplomatic efforts with respect to its nuclear ambitions."  (State Department)
  • Lebanese Border Village Remains in Limbo - Charles Levinson
    The Obama administration is pushing Israel to withdraw its forces from the Lebanese side of Ghajar, a farming village on the Israel-Lebanon border, where 2,200 residents - all Israeli citizens - are stuck in limbo. Israel has yet to agree, saying it is concerned about the fate of villagers and the potential legal repercussions of placing Israeli citizens under Lebanese sovereignty. Residents can now move freely into Israel, but not Lebanon. "Ghajar's residents are Israelis and they depend on Israel, and they can't be simply abandoned in enemy territory controlled by Hizbullah," said a senior Israeli official. The Obama administration is "really pushing us, but they're not looking at the details," he said.
        Residents of Ghajar, which was part of Syria for nearly five decades, fear being split or turned over to Lebanon. "We consider ourselves Syrian...but nobody is asking us what we want," says Najib Khatib, a village spokesman. (Wall Street Journal)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Israel Details IDF's Gaza War Probes - Herb Keinon and E.B. Solomont
    Israel will deliver a 40-page letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday explaining the independence of Israel's legal system, and the efficacy of the justice system in the military. Diplomatic officials stressed that this letter is not the IDF's answer to the Goldstone Commission report. The IDF rebuttal is currently being completed, will number more than 1,000 pages, and will answer point-by-point all the allegations in the Goldstone Report. Rather, the letter will spell out how the IDF investigated allegations of misconduct during the Gaza operation and will point out that Israel's system of military justice compares with that in other democratic countries and is independent, and that the IDF's investigations are serious. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Israel Willing to Release Fatah Prisoners to Jump-Start Peace Talks with PA - Barak Ravid
    In talks with U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed a willingness to release hundreds of Fatah prisoners as a goodwill gesture to jump-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Under the plan, Israel would also embark on low-level negotiations with U.S. mediation. Negotiations would take place in the format of proximity talks. Mitchell proposed that he travel between Jerusalem and Ramallah, relaying messages to the two sides on various core issues, including borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security. At a later stage the talks might be taken over by low-level officials on both sides. (Ha'aretz)
        See also Palestinians Working with Mitchell toward Talks
    Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says conditions aren't yet right to return to peace talks with Israel but that the Palestinians are working with U.S. envoy George Mitchell on ways to break the deadlock. (AP/Washington Post)
  • Bill Clinton Hails Israel Aid Mission to Haiti
    Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, the current UN special envoy to Haiti, told Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos economic forum in Switzerland on Thursday: "Shimon, I don't know what we would have done without the Israeli hospital at Haiti. The Israeli hospital was the only operational facility which was able to perform surgery and advanced tests....We all want to thank Israel from the bottom of our hearts."  (Ha'aretz)
  • David and Goliath in the Middle East - Danny Ayalon
    Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the plenum of the Council of Europe on Tuesday: "We have been alone sitting at the negotiating table for nine months...but we are still waiting for the Palestinians to take their seat....There is absolutely no reason to place more obstacles than were placed before; we once again reiterate our call for the Palestinians to meet with us without preconditions from either side." In response to the contention that the Palestinians are foregoing 78% of historic Palestine, Ayalon stated that there has never been a Palestinian state in history and the word "Palestine" is Roman in origin and not Arabic.
        In reaction to a comment that Israel was Goliath and the Palestinians are David, Ayalon responded: "If anyone is David in the Middle East, it is Israel. There is one Jewish state with 22 Arab states, and 6 million Jews compared with 300 million Arabs in the Middle East. Israel's territory totals a third of one percent of the whole land mass in the Middle East."  (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • The Palestinians and the Peace Process
    Some Western diplomats and Palestinian officials hint that Abbas, with a helping hand from Arab states, is quietly poised to shelve his previous demand for a total settlement freeze and will consent to a plan to set up low-level or indirect talks, to save the Palestinian leader's face. Abbas, they say, knows he will not find a more sympathetic American president than Obama, so fears frittering his time away. Moreover, the PA, which Abbas heads, depends on American cash.
        In any case, many Palestinians are enjoying the West Bank's rising prosperity. Ramallah, their administrative capital, is bristling with new buildings, electronic and liquor shops and various spin-offs of foreign aid. Ramallah at night glitters with neon lights. Other Palestinian cities, though less flashy, also defy the world's economic crunch.
        Meanwhile, political apathy is setting in. A recent well-publicized meeting where Palestinians were to press their claims to Arab-populated East Jerusalem drew an audience of less than 50. As long as foreign donors pay the PA's salary bill, few expect a new intifada (uprising). (Economist-UK)
  • The Egypt-Hamas Standoff in Gaza: A View from Israel - Shlomo Brom
    Cairo's basic attitude toward Hamas as an offshoot and branch of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is wariness. The Egyptian Brotherhood presents the greatest challenge to the Egyptian regime, hence the existence of a territory ruled by a sister movement on Egypt's border is a problem: it can serve as a model and a base of operations affecting Egypt itself; and it threatens Egyptian sovereignty, as manifested in January 2008 by the breaching of the Gaza-Sinai border wall and the flow of many thousands of Gazans to the Egyptian side.
        The close relationship that has developed between Hamas and Iran and Hizbullah has only strengthened the perception of the threat posed by Hamas, especially after the uncovering in Egypt of Hizbullah cells that were part of a network smuggling weapons to Gaza. Evidence that these cells were planning attacks inside Egypt brought home to the Egyptian regime that its worst nightmare was coming true: Gaza was becoming an internal Egyptian security problem.
        Egypt understands, particularly after the war in Gaza a year ago, that the smuggling of weapons into Gaza is both highly destabilizing and a source of growing Hamas self-confidence. Stopping the smuggling will weaken Hamas, decrease its self-confidence, and make it more dependent on Egypt. Hamas leaders fully understand just how dependent they are on Egypt as long as the alternative conduits to Gaza are controlled by Israel. Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. (Daily
  • Palestinians Unwilling or Unable to Make Compromises - Elliott Abrams interviewed by Jeffrey Goldberg
    Abrams: If Iran gets a nuclear weapon, its influence and that of Hamas and Hizbullah are strengthened. But the problem thus far has been the unwillingness and/or inability of Palestinian leaders to make those compromises and sell them to the Palestinian public. A few years ago when Iran and Hamas were less influential, they [the Palestinians] could not or would not do it - not at Camp David or Taba, nor after Annapolis in January 2009 with Olmert. This stems from a combination of factors, not just Hamas and Iran: extremist positions no doubt have some support among Palestinians; the Fatah/PLO leadership is weak and not fully legitimate; and as implementing any agreement will take years, Palestinian leaders are greatly disadvantaged by a "shelf agreement" where all their compromises appear to come up front. (Atlantic Monthly)
  • Cognitive Warfare and Goldstone's Gaza Report - Richard Landes
    In the final analysis, Goldstone's report represents yet one more example of a massive failure of the West in its cognitive warfare with Islamist forces. For the West, cognitive war is an adjunct to the real battlefield; for the jihadists, the physical battlefield (where they know they can only lose, for now) is an adjunct to the cognitive battlefield. Hamas in 2008-2009, and Hizbullah in 2006, pursued a strategy literally unknown in the history of warfare of maximizing their own civilians' deaths in order to turn people the world over against their designated enemies. For Hamas, the media battlefield was their main concern. Indeed, they barely fought in the field.
        By echoing their accusations, journalists and organizations like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and the UNHRC make this strategy a success; they make it "rational." It is hard to imagine a more spectacular victory of the ruthless "weak" forces of an asymmetrical war, one that specifically encourages sacrifice of their own populations.
        As long as the militarily weaker side can attack enemy civilians with impunity from the midst of their own civilians and have every attempt to strike back turned against the society that tries to protect itself from their aggression, they advance their cause. Accordingly, critics have denounced the report for its unintended consequences, as a "terrorist's charter," as a roadmap for lawfare that will tie the West down like the Lilliputians did Gulliver, as a recipe for the victimization of civilians by ruthless jihadists. The writer, an American historian and author, is an associate professor in history at Boston University. (GLORIA Center, IDC Herzliya)
        See also Goldstone Speaks at Yale - Richard Landes (Augean Stables)
  • Why They Hate Us - Interview with Lee Smith by Michael Totten
    The title of Lee Smith's The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations "comes from Osama Bin Laden's observation that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse." "To say that Lebanon is held at gunpoint by an armed gang, or that Lebanese journalists are assassinated for their work, Syrian intellectuals and Egyptian rights activists are typically thrown in prison and tortured, and regional minorities like the Shia, Druze, Alawi, Christians, Kurds and Jews have often been the target of purges and political violence all in the name of Arab nationalism, a corporatist ideology that seeks to erase communal as well as individual difference, is not to say that Arabs only understand force, but that violence is a central factor in Arab political life and it is impossible to understand the region without taking this into account."
        "There is no doubt that Hizbullah despises Israel and would very much like to bring about its demise, but their deeper, perhaps existential, concern is not the some 5 million Jews on Lebanon's southern border, but the Sunni sea that has engulfed the Shia for more than a millennium. And so fighting Israel establishes this Shia militia's credentials as genuine Arabs."
        "The same holds true for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Why does Iran care so much about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? They don't share a border with Israel, they have not taken in Palestinian refugees like Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, nor are they even an Arab state....The reason Iran has inserted itself in the Arab-Palestinian crisis is in order to project power in the region by shaming Sunni states, like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. All of these states, U.S. allies, either have peace treaties with Jerusalem or have opted out of any active participation in the war against Israel. The Iranians calculate that the Arab masses prefer resistance to reform, accommodation and compromise, and so Tehran has picked up the banners of war that the Sunni states have put down....The main reason they are ratcheting up the noise is because they see resistance ideology as a way to get a leg up, as you put it, on their real regional adversaries, the Sunni Arab states."  (
  • Qatari Columnist Laments Growing Gap between Arabs and West
    Iyad Al-Dulaimi, a columnist for the Qatari daily Al-'Arab, took stock on the eve of the new year (Dec. 31, 2009): "A quick glance at what is happening around us is enough to tell us that we Arabs are a nation that has lost its grip, and that we no longer have anything of value except our oil, which we sell to others in return for their dollars and their products. I do not know what we will do with our oil tomorrow if these nations achieve their goal of developing alternative energy [sources]....Every day I writhe in pain to see the gap between ourselves and the West and the civilized world growing wider and wider, and to see us apparently accepting this situation."  (MEMRI)
        See also Recognition at Last for the Arab World's Modern Thinkers - Rami Khouri
    A stream of Arab thinkers, writers, intellectuals, academics, artists and cultural activists articulate the basic grievances and aspirations of those who do not accept a permanent state of Arab mediocrity. (Globe and Mail-Canada)

    Weekend Features

  • IDF Saving Lives in Haiti or Committing "War Crimes" in Gaza - Something Doesn't Compute - Lenny Ben-David
    This week marks the end of the three-month deadline given by the UN General Assembly for Israel's response to the Goldstone report on the Gaza war, which charged Israel (and nominally, Hamas) with serious violations of international and humanitarian law. How is it, then, that Israel, so skillful in saving lives in Haiti, stands accused by the UN of "war crimes, crimes against humanity, willful killings, and willfully causing great suffering"? Something just doesn't compute with the images of the IDF in Haiti.
        By nature, Israelis will go to the ends of the earth - literally - to save lives. Save a Child's Heart is an Israel-based group of pediatric heart surgeons who have saved more than 2,000 children with congenital heart defects. The children come from 36 countries, including Iraq, Jordan, Sudan, and the Palestinian Authority. The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid (IsraAID) sent additional medical units to Haiti. The group swung into action after the tsunami in 2004, providing on-the-ground assistance and health care to Sri Lanka. Israeli eye doctors restore sight to patients in Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and Palau. Saving lives is something Israelis do as part of their national and religious ethos. The writer served as a senior Israeli diplomat in Washington. (Pajamas Media)
  • Jews Flee Malmo as Anti-Semitism Grows in Sweden - David Landes
    Threats and harassment are becoming increasingly commonplace for Jewish residents in Malmo in southern Sweden, leading many Jews to leave the city out of fear for their safety. Last year there were 79 crimes against Jewish residents reported to the police in Malmo, roughly double the number reported in 2008, according to the Skanska Dagbladet newspaper. In addition, Jewish cemeteries and synagogues have repeatedly been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.
        There are currently an estimated 3,000 Jews living in the south of Sweden, with most residing in Malmo, Helsingborg, and Lund. Marcus Eilenberg, a 32-year-old father of two, has decided to move to Israel. "My children aren't safe here. It's going to get worse," he said, describing how people call him "damn Jew" when he walks to synagogue and that his friends are frequently harassed and threatened. (The Local-Sweden)
  • Egypt's Internet Crackdown - David Keyes
    On Jan. 15, more than two dozen Egyptian bloggers and activists were arrested en route to a show of solidarity following the deaths of six Coptic Christians in the southern province of Qena. Though they were released a day later, this crackdown sent shockwaves through the dissident community in Egypt. I asked one of Egypt's leading female bloggers if the recent crackdowns increased fear in the blogging community. "No!" she responded defiantly. "The more activists jailed, the more new activists appear." American aid should be directly conditioned on Egypt's respect for freedom of expression. The writer is director of, which promotes the free expression of online political dissidents. (Daily Beast)
  • JNF: 240 Million Trees Planted Since 1901
    Israel is the only country in the world which has more trees now than it did 100 years ago. In 1901, the year in which the Jewish National Fund (JNF) was founded, Israel contained only 14,000 dunam (roughly 3,500 acres) of forest land. By 1980 the figure reached 556,000 dunam and currently Israel has 855,663 dunam of forests. JNF has planted over 240 million trees in its years of existence. (Ynet News)
  • Observations:

    Why Israel Must Man the Borders with Jordan - Martin Peretz (New Republic)

    • Here are the realities of Israel today. Everybody understands that the 1967 lines really means 1949. They are silly borders - really, tokens of a fictitious past.
    • In the early days of the Jewish state, its enemies were perceived as armies, with, here and there, a terrorist gang or two. Now, the Palestinians do "asymmetrical warfare," terrorism writ large.
    • If they have sovereignty, they will not repair to armies, at least not in the early stages of "peace." They will, as they have already more than amply shown in Gaza, wage war by rockets and missiles.
    • The prospect of irregular war requires Israel to man the borders with Jordan, where about 50-70% of the population is Palestinian, mostly disloyal to the monarchy, restive, and increasingly drawn by the allure of Hamas.
    • A long time ago, my own ideal of an Israeli politician, Yigal Allon, military hero and social idealist, drew a map that was realistic in that it met all the threats (save the nuclear threat) his country could face. It was called the Allon Plan.

      The writer is the editor-in-chief of The New Republic.

          See also What Happened to the Jordan Valley? - Dore Gold (Jerusalem Post)

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