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February 1, 2010

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U.S. Official: Hizbullah Arms Flow May Signal Plans for War with Israel - Avi Issacharoff (Ha'aretz)
    The U.S. is concerned that the continued flow of arms to Hizbullah could prompt a war between Israel and Lebanon, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeff Feltman said in remarks published Sunday by the London-based Al-Hayat.
    Feltman said he was growing increasingly worried by reports describing the quantity and types of weapons being smuggled to Hizbullah in clear violation of UN Resolution 1701, which put an end to the 2006 war.
    The UN resolution clearly demanded a weapons-free south Lebanon, said Feltman.

Deputy Army Chief: Goldstone Report a Trojan Horse - Roni Sofer (Ynet News)
    IDF deputy chief of staff Maj.-Gen. Benny Gantz told the Herzliya Conference Sunday that the Goldstone report on the Gaza operation was "a Trojan horse...that will eventually harm us."
    "Our moral soundness is clear after dozens of investigations and interrogations," Gantz said.
    "Israel must make it clear that while we share a number of values with the West, there is a basic difference. We live with our values in a war zone. This fusillade does not allow us to respond any other way. We must remove this threat. We cannot remain victims."

PA Funds, Endorses Security Fence Protests - Yaakov Katz (Jerusalem Post)
    The Palestinian Authority is funding and participating in violent demonstrations against the construction of the West Bank security barrier, Israeli defense officials said Thursday.
    The IDF has noted a growing presence of PA government officials at the weekly demonstrations.
    According to information obtained by Israel, the escalation and funding has been endorsed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. "Once the demonstrators see that they have the PA's support, they are encouraged to act violently," one IDF source said.

Leader of Pakistani Taliban Thought Dead after U.S. Strikes - Pamela Constable and Haq Nawaz Khan (Washington Post)
    U.S. and Pakistani officials said Sunday that they were growing increasingly confident that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, had died after being wounded in a U.S. missile strike.
    "While I can't confirm reports of Hakimullah's demise, here's to hoping they're true," said a senior U.S. official. "This is one of the worst people on the planet."
    The group's original leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was killed in a U.S. drone missile attack in August.

Chinese Admiral Proposes Naval Base in Mideast - Arun Kumar Singh (Deccan Chronicle-India)
    In 2009, after a year of anti-piracy deployments in the Gulf of Aden, a retired Chinese admiral publicly propounded the need for the Chinese Navy to acquire a base near this strategic region to overcome numerous logistics and maintenance problems and also allow some rest to its sailors.
    At present, Chinese warships are deployed for four to six months in the Gulf of Aden without access to ports.
    While the Chinese government distanced itself from the admiral's proposal, the Chinese already have a suitable base available (Gwadar port that they built in Pakistan), and will soon have another one in Sri Lanka (Hambantota port, which they are building), even as media reports hint at another Chinese-built port in Burma.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Israel Acting Responsibly on Iran, Obama Adviser Says - Dan Williams
    Israel and the U.S. are closely conferring about the Iranian nuclear program, U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones said in an interview published Sunday. Asked whether Washington was concerned about Israel trying to take on Iran alone, Jones said: "Our Israeli partners are very responsible." Addressing a Washington think-tank Friday, Jones envisaged Iran trying to distract from the diplomatic pressure by ordering proxy attacks from its Islamist guerrilla allies on Israel's borders. "When regimes are feeling pressure, as Iran is internally and will externally in the near future, it often lashes out through its surrogates, including, in Iran's case, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza," Jones told the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "As pressure on the regime in Tehran builds over its nuclear program, there is a heightened risk of further attacks against Israel," he added. (Reuters)
  • U.S. Speeding Up Missile Defenses in Persian Gulf - David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt
    The Obama administration is accelerating the deployment of new defenses against possible Iranian missile attacks in the Persian Gulf, placing special ships off the Iranian coast and anti-missile systems in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait, according to administration and military officials. The deployments are partly intended to counter the impression that Iran is fast becoming the most powerful military force in the Middle East and to forestall any Iranian escalation of its confrontation with the West if a new set of sanctions is imposed. American officials argue that the willingness of Arab states to take the American emplacements, which usually come with a small deployment of American soldiers to operate, maintain and protect the equipment, illustrates the region's growing unease about Iran's ambitions and abilities.
        Gen. David Petraeus told the Institute for the Study of War in Washington on Jan. 22 that the acceleration of defensive systems included "eight Patriot missile batteries, two in each of four countries." Petraeus also said the U.S. was now keeping Aegis cruisers on patrol in the Persian Gulf at all times, equipped with anti-missile systems designed to intercept medium-range missiles. (New York Times)
        See also U.S. Steps Up Arms Sales to Persian Gulf Allies - Joby Warrick (Washington Post)
  • Egypt Arrests "Jihadist" Cell Plotting Attacks on Israeli Tourists
    Egyptian police have arrested 23 men suspected of plotting attacks against Israeli visitors to Egypt, U.S. ships in the Suez Canal, and of trying to join "the jihad in Darfur," Interior Ministry sources said Sunday. Egypt's domestic intelligence service, State Security Investigations, confiscated "a large amount" of explosives, including those used in the Kassam rockets Hamas has fired at Israel, in a raid in January.
        A State Security prosecutor has accused the group of plotting attacks against Israeli visitors to the Nile Delta grave of Rabbi Yaakov Abuhatzeira in the Egyptian city of Damanhur. Cairo's independent daily al-Masry al-Youm on Sunday called the group the first "armed jihadist" organization arrested in the country since Egypt's battle with Islamist militants in the 1990s. The daily said the men were arrested "several weeks ago" and that they had confessed to following the ideas of Sayid Qutb, an Egyptian writer commonly identified as the modern father of Islamist political thought. (DPA)
  • Jordan Arrests Dozens Linked to Attack on Israeli Diplomats - Jamal Halaby
    A Jordanian security official says authorities have arrested dozens of Muslim militants in connection with a failed bomb attack on Israeli diplomats on Jan. 14. The official said Sunday that dozens have been detained in a police crackdown mostly on Salafists - militants who seek to revive strict Muslim doctrine dating back to the era of the 6th century Prophet Muhammad. (AP/Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Top Hamas Weapons Smuggler Found Dead - Yaakov Katz
    Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was found dead in his Dubai hotel on Jan. 20. Mabhouh helped establish the Izzadin Kassam in Gaza in the 1980s and was behind the kidnapping and murder in 1989 of two Israeli soldiers - Sgt. Avi Sasportas and Pvt. Ilan Sa'adon. Mabhouh was based in Damascus, where he operated alongside Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal and was involved in smuggling long-range rockets from Iran to Gaza. One report claimed he was behind the weapons convoy that Israel bombed during the Gaza war as it was making its way to Gaza through Sudan. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Slain Hamas Leader Was Key Arms Smuggler - Charles Levinson
    Col. Barak Ben-Zur, a senior official in the Israel Security Agency until 2007, said Mabhouh "was one of the main figures in the military branch of Hamas." A senior Israeli defense official said, "It won't be easy to replace him because these guys live in secret, all their connections are in secret, so you can't just replace him the next day. It can take a few months and sometimes much longer."  (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Senior Hamas Militant Killed in Dubai - Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel
    Mabhouh worked with a small team to coordinate the smuggling of hundreds of tons of arms and explosives, mainly by sea from Iran to Egypt and then through Sinai and the tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border. If this was an Israeli operation, as Hamas claims, it is most likely linked to a clear and present danger, and not in payback for past actions. (Ha'aretz)
  • Two Hamas Militants Arrested for Plotting Terror Attacks in Israel - Hanan Greenberg
    The Israel Security Agency arrested two eastern Jerusalem residents suspected of being recruited by Hamas during their studies in Jordan, and gathering information on potential terror targets in Israel, it was cleared for publication Monday. Murad Kamal, 24, from Wadi Joz, and Murad Nimer, 24, from Tzur Baher, both carry Israeli IDs and were arrested on Jan. 3. The two prepared a cave near Sataf, in the Judean Hills, and expanded it to use as a hiding place for weapons. At the request of their Hamas handlers, the two collected photographs and sketches of potential terror targets, including the central bus station and Malha Mall in Jerusalem, the central bus station in Beersheba, the hotel area on the Tel Aviv coast, bus stops in Jerusalem and Mevasseret, and the area near the Tel Hashomer military base. (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran, After the Deadline - Editorial
    Iran has again proved to be a master at playing for time. Six months after a new diplomatic overture from Washington and its partners, Tehran has shown no interest in resolving the dispute over its nuclear program. It is time for President Obama and other leaders to ratchet up the pressure with tougher sanctions. On Friday, we were glad to see Secretary of State Clinton publicly warn China, which seems especially intractable, that it faces diplomatic isolation if it fails to back new sanctions. If the Security Council does not act quickly, then the U.S. and Europe must apply more pressure on their own. Meanwhile, the centrifuges keep spinning. (New York Times)
        See also Clinton Warns China to Stay the Course on Iran Nuclear Sanctions - Paul Richter (Los Angeles Times)
  • Universal Jurisdiction: Will the British Government Ever Act? - Martin Bright and Stephen Pollard
    Legislation to prevent magistrates issuing arrest warrants for high-profile foreign visitors accused of war crimes has been delayed because it is still awaiting a decision from Prime Minister Gordon Brown. At the same time, Downing Street sources said Justice Secretary Jack Straw is still dragging his feet over the issue. Straw is known to be highly sensitive to the views of his Muslim constituents in Blackburn and is close to the Muslim Council of Britain, which opposes a change to the law. Shadow Middle East minister David Lidington said, "It is very clear to me that this issue is doing serious damage to relations with Israel. This needs to be resolved. If we hope to play a part in the Middle East peace process, senior Israelis need to know they can travel freely in the UK."
        Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced his intention to change the law on "universal jurisdiction" late last year, but according to a highly placed source, the Justice Secretary is "pulling every trick in the book" to frustrate moves to deal with it. The source said: "Every time a deal seems close to being done, Jack finds another 'obstacle.' He is the block. Without him this would have been dealt with weeks ago."  (Jewish Chronicle-UK)
  • Observations:

    IDF Investigations of the Gaza Operation: An Update (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

    • On January 29, 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a 46-page update describing Israel's procedures for the investigation of allegations of violations of the laws of armed conflict in the Gaza operation a year ago. Israel is committed to investigating every allegation of violations, irrespective of the source of the allegation. To date, the IDF has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents. Prior to the publication of the Goldstone report, Israel was already investigating 22 of the 34 incidents it addresses. The remaining 12 incidents, none of which had previously been brought to the attention of the Israeli authorities, were promptly referred for investigation upon the report's publication.
    • The Military Advocate General has reviewed the entire record of certain incidents discussed in the Goldstone report and concluded that there was no basis for a criminal investigation.
    • The Gaza wastewater treatment plant - The wastewater treatment plant was not defined, prior to or during the operation, as a target for an aerial strike. The nearest aerial strike on the relevant dates was 1.3 km. from the plant. When Israeli armored forces passed near the plant, during the operation, the basin wall was already breached and the area surrounding it was flooded, thus limiting the movement of the forces in that area. The Military Advocate General could not dismiss the possibility that the damage might have resulted from a deliberate action by Hamas as part of a defensive plan to hamper the movement of IDF forces.
    • The El-Bader flour mill - The immediate area of the flour mill was used by enemy armed forces as a defensive zone, due to its proximity to Hamas' stronghold in Shati. Hamas had fortified this area with tunnels and booby-trapped houses, and deployed its forces to attack IDF troops operating there. Adjacent to the flour mill, two booby-trapped houses exploded. In the course of the fighting on Jan. 9, IDF troops came under intense fire from different Hamas positions in the vicinity of the flour mill. The Military Advocate General found that, in the specific circumstances of combat, and given its location, the flour mill was a legitimate military target in accordance with the laws of armed conflict.
    • The Abu-Askar house - The cellar and other parts of the residence of Muhammad Abu-Askar were used to store weapons and ammunition, including Grad rockets. Furthermore, the area where the house was located was frequently used as a launch area for rockets aimed at Israeli towns. Before the strike, the IDF made a telephone call to the house warning of an impending airstrike. The call was received by Muhammad Abu-Askar. Following this warning, all occupants immediately evacuated the premises. There were no civilian casualties from the strike. Shortly after the strike, two sons of Mr. Abu-Askar, both Hamas military operatives, were killed while launching mortars at IDF forces. The Military Advocate General concluded that due to its use as a large storage facility for weapons and ammunition, the house was a legitimate military target.
          Read the Full Document (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

          See also IDF Denies Disciplining Top Officers over White Phosphorous Use in Gaza War - Anshel Pfeffer (Ha'aretz)

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