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February 17, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Dubai Hit Squad Used Identities of British Nationals Living in Israel - Catherine Philp, Richard Ford, and Sheera Frenkel (Times-UK)
    The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that the identities used by six members of a hit squad that killed Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on Jan. 20 were those of British passport holders living in Israel.
    While the names, passport numbers and dates of birth on the fraudulent passports matched the originals, the photographs and signatures differed.
    See also Two Palestinians Held in Dubai over Hamas Murder - Acil Tabbara (AFP)
    See also Israel Has Nothing to Worry About over Dubai Killing - Yossi Melman (Ha'aretz)
    Many of the countries whose passports were allegedly used do not like Hamas; and the government of Dubai does not really want to get to the bottom of this.
    There are other Arab countries who do not consider Hamas a friend and who are in a secret war - no less bitter than Israel's - against the Islamist organization. Jordan is one of them, as is Egypt.

Obama Nominates New Envoy for Syria (Reuters-New York Times)
    President Obama took a step toward improving relations with Syria on Tuesday by nominating a career diplomat, Robert Ford, to be the U.S. ambassador to Damascus.
    The U.S. withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in 2005 after Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, was assassinated in Beirut. Lebanese critics contended that Syria was involved in the killing.

Israeli Economy Grew 4.4 Percent in Q4 of 2009 - Steven Scheer (Reuters)
    Israel's economy grew at an annualized 4.4% in the fourth quarter of 2009, its fastest pace in nearly two years.
    Exports surged 33% in the fourth quarter.

Israel Ranked 17th in Terror Threats, After Turkey and Russia (Reuters)
    Israel is ranked 17th in terror threats among the world's nations, according to Maplecroft risk consultancy's Terrorism Risk Index.
    The index, based on 2009 data, ranks Iraq as the top terror risk, followed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, India, Algeria, Colombia, and Thailand.
    The Philippines ranked 10, Palestinian Territories 11, Turkey 14, and Russia 15.

Israelis Wounded by Hizbullah Rockets Sue Iran in U.S. Court - Vered Luvitch (Ynet News)
    85 Israelis who were wounded or their loved ones were killed during the Second Lebanon War submitted a claim in a U.S. court for $1 billion against Iran's central bank and Iranian commercial banks.
    The victims claimed that Tehran gave Hizbullah millions of dollars with the declared intention of making it possible for them to fire at Israeli targets.
    "The central bank of Iran and the Saderat Bank are the chief monetary pipelines from Iran to Hizbullah. Without these funds, Hizbullah would not have been able to build and maintain its infrastructure, to train the terrorists in its ranks, or carry out massive rocket fire at Israel," attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner explained.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • Pressure on Iran Increases from U.S. - Peter Spiegel and Chip Cummins
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's accusation this week that Iran is becoming a military dictatorship run by elements of the militant Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is the public expression of conclusions privately drawn by U.S. officials and administration advisers for months. Senior U.S. officials and Iran analysts said the administration may be able to rally world opinion against the elite military group in a way it has yet to manage against the religious leaders who sit atop the regime. Gordon Duguid, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday the Revolutionary Guards is "currently in control" of nine of 22 cabinet ministries.
        Focusing on the Revolutionary Guards also allows Washington to target an organization that is - through its paramilitary militia, the Basij - primarily responsible for the violent crackdown against demonstrators in the wake of June's presidential elections. "The IRGC is a convenient target because it's the entity that manages Iran's nuclear program, it's the entity that liaises with extremist groups throughout the Middle East, and it's the entity which is overseeing the brutal crackdown on the Iranian people," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Wall Street Journal)
        See also Revolutionary Guards Keep Stranglehold on Iran - Dieter Bednarz and Erich Follath (Der Spiegel-Germany)
        See also Clinton's Sharp Words for Iran - Glenn Kessler
    As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton completed her tour of the Persian Gulf region on Tuesday, criticism of Iran was the standard practice. Clinton told students in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, that "questions keep building" about Iran and its nuclear ambitions. "Iran has threatened other countries, including the [Saudi] kingdom," she said. "Iran has funded terrorists that have launched attacks within other countries, including the kingdom. Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism in the world today....You have to ask yourself: Why are they doing this?"  (Washington Post)
  • Ahmadinejad Warns Against Tougher Sanctions
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad warned the U.S. and other nations Tuesday not to impose tougher sanctions in reaction to his country's nuclear ambitions. "It's high time for some people to open their eyes and adapt themselves to real changes that are under way," Ahmadinejad said. Asked specifically about the threat of tougher sanctions, the Iranian president said, "It won't put us in trouble. They themselves will get into trouble." "Definitely, we will show a reaction that will put them to shame, like always," he said. (CNN)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Muslims Planned to Build on Muslim Cemetery in Jerusalem - Abe Selig
    The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Tuesday accused opponents of its plans to build a museum near a historic Muslim cemetery in central Jerusalem of "sheer hypocrisy" after the center obtained information showing that the Supreme Muslim Council of British Mandate Palestine had planned to build a large commercial center directly on top of the cemetery in 1945. A November 22, 1945, article from The Palestine Post (the pre-state name of The Jerusalem Post) states, "An area of over 450 dunams in the heart of Jerusalem, now forming the Mamilla Cemetery, is to be converted into a business center. The town-plan is being completed under the supervision of the Supreme Moslem Council."
        "In an interview with Al-Wih-da, the Jerusalem weekly, a member of the Supreme Muslim Council stated that the use of Muslim cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere. The member added that the Supreme Muslim Council intended to publish a statement containing dispensations by Egyptian, Hijazi and Demascene clerics sanctioning the building program."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • Time to Tell Palestinians to Return to Negotiations - Haviv Rettig Gur
    Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said American leaders are well aware the Palestinians are the party refusing to talk. "The administration should continue to acknowledge that the Israelis are willing to return to the negotiating table and it's time to tell the Palestinians they have to do the same, and it's important to bring the Arab states into this process to give Abbas the support he needs to start negotiating," Solow said on the sidelines of the annual Conference of Presidents gathering in Jerusalem. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Netanyahu Lobbies Russians for Ancient Hebrew Texts - Noah Kosharek
    Prime Minister Netanyahu and Russian President Medvedev on Monday discussed Israel's desire to retrieve the Guenzberg collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts. The collection includes 14,000 books (some published in the 14th century) and more than 2,000 Hebrew manuscripts. Following the death of Baron David Guenzberg in 1910, Zionist activists arranged for its relocation to prestate Israel. In May 1917, the Russians agreed to sell the collection to the Jewish National and University Library for half a million rubles. But after the money had already been paid by Russian Zionists and the collection was packaged and ready for shipment, World War I erupted, delaying the shipment. After the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the newly installed Soviet authorities expropriated the collection. (Ha'aretz)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Nuclear Iran: American Dawdling Allowed the Mullahs to Get the Bomb - Editorial
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad announced last week that Tehran has the capability to produce weapons-grade uranium. There is a reason that highly enriched uranium is called "weapons-grade," and it has nothing to do with peaceful uses of nuclear power. It is a measure of Western impotence that the U.S. went to war with Iraq in 2003 to prevent the very things Iran is announcing with pride in 2010. Had Saddam Hussein made the same claim, the question over weapons of mass destruction would have been settled at once.
        Discussion swirls around various forms of sanctions: smart sanctions, focused sanctions, effective sanctions, sanctions that bite. However, there is no reason to think that any sanctions regime will dissuade Tehran from its current course of action. The limited courses of action being discussed in Washington are irrelevant. Tehran will pursue its revolutionary interests. (Washington Times)
  • "Fatahgate" - Khaled Abu Toameh
    By telling Palestinians that the current sex scandal in the PA is an Israeli "conspiracy" to weaken Mahmoud Abbas and force him to make political and territorial concessions, the Palestinian leaders are generating still more hatred among Palestinians against the Jewish state. Only a few dared to demand an inquiry into the sex scandal or cases of financial and administrative corruption revealed by former Palestinian intelligence official Fahmi Shabaneh. One of Abbas' top aides, Rafik Husseini, was caught with his pants down in the bedroom of an Arab woman and, of course, it's the Jews' fault.
        So what if Shabaneh has all the evidence to prove that he was acting on direct instructions from his boss, Tawfik Tirawi, former head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service. And so what if Abbas knew about the sex scandal more than a year ago, when Shabaneh presented him with all the material he had collected during his work as head of the anti-corruption unit in the Palestinian security forces. The Palestinian Authority's claim that the Israelis are behind the latest sex scandal in Ramallah should be seen in the context of the campaign of incitement that began under Yasser Arafat against Israel and Jews, and what dictators use to "change the subject" at home. (Hudson Institute New York)
        See also Sex Scandal Involving Abbas' Top Aide Rocks Fatah - Sheera Frenkel (Times-UK)
  • U.S. Shifts Peace-Making Priorities - Barry Rubin
    Secretary of State Clinton's communique' on Feb. 11 after her meeting with Tony Blair indicates the new direction of U.S. policy on Israel-Palestinian issues. It defines administration policy as seeking a two-state solution through three tactics: "(1) To help build the economy and capacity to govern a Palestinian state; (2) to renew political negotiations to enable the earliest possible establishment of that state; and (3) to achieve these in a manner that ensures the security of Israel and of the Palestinians." Up until now, item two has been in the top position. Since direct talks are not in sight, the administration has shifted gears and the main priority is a process of state-building among Palestinians to get them ready for statehood.
        It does seem as if the White House has realized the PA is not ready for peace and is thus reluctant to commit much effort to the issue. Meanwhile, it will just go on saying how much it loves the Palestinians and look active while trying to keep things quiet as it deals with other issues. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Observations:

    Iran's Brinkmanship Is Paying Off - Ephraim Asculai (Institute for National Security Studies-Tel Aviv University)

    • On Feb. 8, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, announced that Iran began enriching uranium from 3.5 to 20% uranium-235, demonstrating Iran's complete defiance of the international position regarding its nuclear development program.
    • If Iran amasses a stock of 20% enriched uranium, then the time needed to break out and produce nuclear weapons becomes quite short. Looking at the history of the long, drawn out process behind international decisions on how to deal with the Iranian issue, one can only conclude that if Iran has a stock of 20% enriched uranium, it can no longer be considered a threshold state, but a full-fledged nuclear power.
    • The recent announcements concerning the strengthening by the U.S. of the missile defenses in the Gulf region could be taken as a sign that the U.S. has almost given up hope that Iran could be persuaded, either diplomatically or through severe sanctions, to at least suspend, if not dismantle, its uranium enrichment operations.
    • The wisdom of hindsight indicates that the October 2009 proposal by the U.S. for the nuclear fuel deal only accelerated Iran's program towards achieving a nuclear weapons capability by providing Iran with an excuse to enrich uranium to 20%.

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